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Free the Press 2014: Stemming the Tide of Media Repression



Journalists are being silenced around the world. In too many places, they are imprisoned, attacked, intimidated, disappeared, exiled or murdered for trying to report the news or exercise their freedom of expression. In the week leading up to World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the U.S. Department of State highlights emblematic threats to journalists while continuing to call on all governments to protect the universal human right to freedom of expression. 


Journalists in Pakistan


Journalism in Pakistan is a dangerous business, and Pakistan has been called one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. There are numerous examples over the past several years of threats against, attacks upon, and murders of individuals seeking to report on events in Pakistan. 

We remain concerned about the safety of journalists, both local and international, working in Pakistan. Freedom of the media, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy.

We appreciate the recent public commitments from the Government of Pakistan to expand media freedoms and address the insecurity plaguing the country’s journalists. We urge the Government of Pakistan to do everything possible to create a safe environment for journalists and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for attacks against them.

The U.S. government strongly supports a vibrant and independent media in Pakistan, just as we do in the United States and around the world. We applaud the efforts and commitment of professional, principled, and dedicated journalists who are working, in perilous conditions, to provide credible and informed analysis of developments in Pakistan.


Reeyot Alemu – Ethiopia

Reeyot Alemu, a freelance journalist, was arrested in June 2011 by Ethiopian authorities at the high school where she taught English. She was arrested four days after she wrote a piece criticizing the Ethiopian government’s fundraising methods for a national dam project. She was convicted of terrorist activity in January 2012 and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for corresponding with opposition discussion groups and sending updates to the U.S.-based opposition news site Ethiopian Review. Following the reduction of her sentence to five years by the Ethiopian Supreme Court in August 2012, Reeyot lost a subsequent appeal to dismiss the case altogether. In April 2013, Reeyot won the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.” Reeyot is one of eleven journalists, opposition political figures, and activists convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and imprisoned in Ethiopia for exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Others have been convicted in absentia. Ethiopian authorities also detained six independent bloggers and three independent journalists April 25-26. The United States calls on the Government of Ethiopia to immediately release Reeyot and other journalists imprisoned for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights, and to cease using its anti-terrorism law to restrict press freedoms.


Roberto de Jesus Guerra – Cuba

Free the Press 2014: Journalist Roberto Jesus Guerra and indendent media outlet Hablemos Press

Free the Press 2014: Journalist Roberto Jesus Guerra of Hablemos Press

Roberto de Jesus Guerra is an activist, blogger, human rights defender, and Director of the independent Hablemos Press. Independent press remains illegal in Cuba, and independent journalists reporting for Hablemos Press constantly face numerous challenges in their efforts to report on activism and the human rights situation on the island, due to the Cuban government’s use of short term detentions, blocking of new media, and monopoly on traditional media. Guerra alone has been detained over 100 times for his efforts to freely share information.

 

We call on the Government of Cuba to end its use of arbitrary detentions, at times with violence, to silence independent voices and unduly restrict freedom of expression and of the press.

 


Osman Shabona – Sudan

Free the Press 2014: journalist Osman Shabona from SudanOn September 24, 2013, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) banned a number of columnists, including journalist Osman Shabona, from writing in any newspapers. Shabona worked for the pro-government daily Al-Ahram-Al-You. Prior to his dismissal, Shabona chronicled economic conditions and the impact of the government’s decision to lift fuel subsidies, which led to large scale protests. During the fall 2013 protests, the government arrested scores of journalists, blocked internet access, and closed newspaper and television stations.

There are several cases of targeted intimidation and repression against newspapers and journalists in Sudan, which continues to impose severe restrictions on press freedom. Media outlets are closed, newspapers are confiscated, and journalists are imprisoned and banned from writing altogether.

In his January 27 and April 6, 2014 call for a National Dialogue, Sudan’s President Bashir publicly pledged to increase freedom of the press. However, since January 2014, the government has confiscated or prevented at least 18 newspapers from distributing their publications.

We call on President Bashir to honor his 2014 public pledges to increase freedom of the press in Sudan by removing restrictions on all banned journalists and newspapers, releasing all journalists imprisoned for criticisms of the government, ceasing all newspaper confiscations, and implementing reforms that widen the space for freedom of expression.


Samah Ibrahim – Egypt

Samah Ibrahim is a young journalist who was sentenced by a court on April 29 to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds on charges including “disturbing the peace” and “demonstrating without a permit.”

Ibrahim’s case is emblematic of the challenges facing journalists in Egypt. She was arrested with nine other people in the course of doing her job – covering a demonstration in Cairo by supporters of former President Morsy in January against the constitutional referendum. The authorities, and then the court, failed to distinguish her presence as a reporter covering a story, rather than a participant in the demonstration.

Ibrahim is one of 17 journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt, according to Committee to Protect Journalists.

At the beginning of the trial of the Al-Jazeera journalists, we said that the Egyptian government’s targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms. We have urged the government to drop these charges and release journalists who have been detained. All journalists, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation, or politicized legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt.


NTN24 – Venezuela

Colombia-based international 24-hour news cable network NTN24 was one of the only sources of live coverage in Venezuela when protests erupted in early February. CONATEL, Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator, ordered NTN24 off the air on February 12, depriving the Venezuelan people of independent, accurate reporting on the nationwide protests that have included arbitrary detentions and excessive use of violence by security forces. As of today, NTN24 remains off the air and is available only through the Internet.

We continue to call on the Government of Venezuela to cease repression of NTN24 and to protect and respect the freedom of expression and other universal human rights.


Avaz Zeynalli – Azerbaijan


On March 12, 2013 the Court of Grave Crimes in Baku sentenced Khural editor Avaz Zeynalli to nine years’ imprisonment on bribery-related charges. He was found guilty of bribery, extortion by threats, and tax evasion. He was arrested on separate charges of blackmail and extortion on 28 October 2011 and has remained in detention ever since. Human rights and media freedom NGOs considered him a political prisoner and call his trial deeply flawed.

We call on the government of Azerbaijan to respect a free and pluralistic media and release Avaz Zeynalli.

 

 


Hussein Ghrer Hani al-Zitani – Syria


Prominent Syrian blogger Hussein Ghrer and journalist Hani al-Zitani were arrested in February 2012, when regime authorities raided the offices of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) in Damascus.

The SCM is dedicated to promoting freedom of opinion in the Middle East and, in Syria, has documented the regime’s restrictions on freedom of expression and its suppression of journalists. After several postponed trials, on March 24, 2014 a Syrian counter-terrorism court accused Ghrer and al-Zitani of promoting terrorist acts and recommended sentencing them to 15 years of imprisonment, including hard labor. Their next hearing date is set for June 18, 2014.

While in detention the men have been denied medical treatment, family visits, and subjected to torture, including whippings, severe beatings, electric shocks, and threats of rape and bodily mutilation.

In March of this year, 55 human rights organizations issued a statement calling for their release, along with SMC’s director Mazen Darwish.

Despite the international community’s repeated calls for their release, including a reference to their case in a May, 2013 UN General Assembly resolution and a finding by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that they are being arbitrarily detained, regime authorities have refused to release them.

We call upon the government of Syria to allow access to detention facilities by international monitors and to implement UN Security Council resolution 2139, which demands an immediate end to arbitrary detention and torture of civilians, including journalists.


Qi Chonghuai – China


Today we highlight Qi Chonghuai, a prominent Chinese investigative journalist, who remains imprisoned on charges of embezzlement, extortion, and blackmail. He was arrested in June 2007 after the online publication of an article he wrote alleged corruption among local Party officials in Shandong Province. After documenting beatings and other prison abuses, he was tried a second time on the charges of embezzlement, extortion and blackmail on June 9, 2011, convicted again, and sentenced to an additional eight years in prison. We believe Chinese and foreign (non-Chinese) journalists should be allowed to operate freely in China and that censorship of the media and intimidation of journalists are incompatible with China’s aspirations to build a modern, information-based economy and society and with its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We continue to urge China to respect internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of press and expression, and to abide by its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Muhammad Bekjanov – Uzbekistan


Muhammad Bekjanov was imprisoned in 1999 and is one of the longest-imprisoned journalists worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In January 2012, shortly before Bekjanov’s scheduled release, authorities sentenced him to another five years in prison for allegedly violating prison rules. Mr. Bekjanov’s health has severely deteriorated over the past 15 years spent in prison and he is in urgent need of medical care.

We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to allow international observers to visit prisons, provide adequate and timely medical care to prisoners, afford due process to all citizens, and permit all inmates to communicate with their families.


Sergey Reznik – Russia


Sergey Reznik, Russian a journalist and blogger from the city of Rostov-on-Don, has been serving an 18 month prison sentence since November 2013. A Rostov court recently upheld his conviction on April 15. Before his imprisonment, Reznik’s writing routinely criticized municipal and regional authorities and uncovered local corruption and abuses. The series of unrelated charges pursued against him, including insulting a public official, bribery, and deliberately misleading authorities, are widely seen by media freedom watchdog groups to be politically-motivated and in retaliation for his journalistic work. A month before his conviction, Reznik was also physically attacked, when two unidentified men beat him with baseball bats and shot at him. Although not hit by the bullets, Reznik suffered head and neck injuries from the beating. While Reznik sits in jail, authorities have made no progress in investigating the attack against him, consistent with a broader pattern of impunity in Russia for those who attack journalists. We call on the government of Russia to release Reznik, and to cease all politically-motivated prosecutions and other forms of pressure on the independent press, and to promote and protect the internationally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression.


Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai – Vietnam

As part of the Department’s ongoing Free the Press campaign, we note the continued detention on orders of the Government of Vietnam of three important bloggers — Mr. Nguyen Van Hai, better known as Dieu Cay and Ms. Ta Phong Tan are imprisoned, and Mr. Phan Thanh Hai is under house arrest. They were arrested in 2012 for writing blog entries and advocating freedom of expression, and their unfair and illegitimate trials produced convictions for “anti-state propaganda” that carried sentences of 12, 10, and four years respectively. Dieu Cay and Ta Phong Tan’s sentences — 12 and 10 years respectively — were upheld on appeal and will be followed by five years each of house arrest. We continue to call for the immediate release of all three individuals, who were jailed merely for exercising their basic human rights, and we call on Vietnam to honor its international human rights commitments.

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