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Free the Press 2015
Free the Press 2015
U.S. Department of State - Washington, D.C.

Logo Design Contest

Are you a budding graphic designer or an established artist who would like to highlight the importance of a free and independent media? If so, the U.S. State Department is looking for a new logo to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the annual ‘Free the Press’ campaign. The winning logo will be used during this year’s ‘Free the Press’ campaign to underscore ongoing threats to journalists while continuing to call on all governments to protect the universal human right to freedom of expression. We are accepting submissions until March 15, 2016. Send your submissions to humanrightscontest@state.gov. The winning logo will be featured on State Department and U.S. Embassy social media accounts with millions of followers. 

For contest rules and to learn more: Free the Press Logo Design Contest

Free the Press 2015

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.

Uzbekistan, Muhammad Bekjanov 

Free the Press: Uzbekistan, Muhammad BekjanovMuhammad Bekjanov, 57-year-old former editor of the Uzbekistani “Erk” newspaper, was sentenced in August 1999 to 15 years in prison on various charges deemed by the international community to be politically motivated in nature, including “threatening constitutional order.” His sentence was shortened in December 2003 under the terms of the annual amnesty, and Mr. Bekjanov was due to be released in April 2012. However, on January 18, 2012, a court in Kashkadaryo region sentenced him to an additional five years’ incarceration for failure to heed the lawful orders of prison authorities. After more than 12 years without a reprimand, Mr. Bekjanov allegedly violated internal prison rules four times in the course of four months, drawing further concern from the international community about his access to due process. According to some NGO observers, Bekjanov is now known to be one of the world’s longest-imprisoned journalists. Mr. Bekjanov’s health has severely deteriorated over the past 16 years spent in prison and he is in urgent need of medical care. We call on the Government of Uzbekistan to grant the immediate release of Mr. Bekjanov. We also urge the Government of Uzbekistan to allow international observers to visit prisons, provide adequate and timely medical care to prisoners, permit all inmates to communicate with their families, and ensure access to due process to all citizens.

Nicaragua: Media Outlets and Journalists

Free the Press: Nicaragua - Media Outlets and Journalist Sandinista party loyalists now control most sources of public media outlets in Nicaragua, especially television and radio stations. Remaining independent media are often not invited to cover official news announcements by state offices, and often cannot obtain information from the government, even official statistics. The restricted media environment also includes censorship, self-censorship, and examples of harassment. We urge the government of Nicaragua to recognize and support the vital role of independent media and the free exchange of ideas as critical components of a free and democratic society.

Azerbaijan: Hilal Mammadov

Free the Press: Azerbaijan, Hilal Mammadov Hilal Mammadov, newspaper editor-in-chief of Tolishi-Sado (Voice of the Talysh), has been serving a five year prison sentence since September 2013. Before his imprisonment, Mammadov was an active member of the Talysh minority ethnic group concentrated in southern Azerbaijan. As editor of the only Talysh-language newspaper, he publicly supported rights of members of the Talysh ethnic group and was critical of what he considered a government that discriminates against members of non-Turkic minorities in Azerbaijan. After Mammadov publicly criticized the government’s handling of the 2012 Eurovision song contest and highlighted the plight of the Talysh people, he was beaten, threatened, arrested, and charged. The government accused Mammadov of treason and “incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred” due to his defense of the Talysh people. The Government of Azerbaijan also claims that Mammadov was selling heroin and spying for Iran. These allegations have not been substantiated. A number of international human rights organizations have criticized the charges against Mr. Mammadov, called for his release, and noted that the previous editor-in-chief of Tolishi-Sado - Novruzali Mammadov - died in custody. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requested his immediate release in March 2014. He is widely considered to be a political prisoner, prosecuted by the Government to prevent him from exercising his right to freedom of expression. We call on the Government of Azerbaijan to release Mr. Mammadov and other journalists and bloggers incarcerated for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression, to cease all such prosecutions and other forms of pressure on the independent press, and to protect the internationally-recognized right to freedom of expression.

Swaziland: Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu

Free the Press: TSwaziland, Thulani Maseko and Bheki Makhubu Thulani Maseko, a Swazi human rights lawyer, and Bheki Makhubu, editor of Swaziland’s The Nation magazine, are currently serving two-year prison sentences after being found guilty of contempt of court on July 17, 2014. The charges in this case stem from an article Maseko wrote for Makhubu’s publication which criticizes the conduct of the judiciary in Swaziland. Maseko and Makhubu’s sentences far exceed the precedent in similar cases, serving as a clear warning that criticism of the government will not be tolerated. While freedom of expression is protected under Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland, the judge in Maseko and Makhubu’s case ruled that preserving the integrity and dignity of the courts outweighs the right to free speech. The two men were also denied due process and the judge in their case had a clear conflict of interest as he was a party to the case. The same judge is now charged with “defeating the ends of justice” for his refusal to recuse himself in another case, yet Maseko and Makhubu remain in prison. The verdict undermined judicial independence and the rule of law, and deprived Maseko and Makhubu of their right to free expression. We call on the government of Swaziland to release these men, uphold the constitutional right to freedom of expression, and to honor its international human rights commitments.

Russian-Occupied Crimea: ATR TV

Free the Press: Russian-Occupied Crimea, ATR TV Russian occupation authorities in Crimea have shut down many major independent media outlets, including 11 of 12 Crimean Tatar language outlets. Those shut down include ATR TV, the last independent television station serving the Tatar population of Crimea, as well as QHR news agency, the newspaper Avdet, and radio station Meydan FM. Russian occupation authorities also have banned most Ukrainian-language programming from the airwaves, replacing the content with Russian state-controlled programming.
These restrictions on media freedom are part of a worsening situation that demonstrates Russia’s disregard for the population of Crimea.
Occupation authorities in Crimea are systematically closing the space for freedom of expression and leading an intimidation campaign that targets independent journalists for detention and prosecution. All residents should have access to a wide range of news, opinion and information. We condemn Russia’s abuses and call for the end of its occupation of Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.

Maldives: Ahmed Rilwan

Free the Press: Maldives, Ahmed Rilwan Ahmed Rilwan, a Maldivian investigative journalist working for Minivan News, disappeared on August 8, 2014 after allegedly being forced at knifepoint into a vehicle outside of his residence. The 28-year-old reporter wrote about Maldivian politics, criminal gangs and Islamic extremism, for which he received threats prior to his abduction. We call on the Government of Maldives to credibly investigate the disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan. We also call on the Government of Maldives to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work without fear of violence or harassment, including by ending impunity for attacks and intimidation against journalists.

Ethiopia: Reeyot Alemu

Free the Press: Reeyot Alemu, EthiopiaReeyot Alemu, a freelance journalist and former high school teacher remains in prison after being convicted under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) on January 19, 2012. She was arrested four days after writing a piece criticizing the Ethiopian government’s fundraising methods for a national dam project. She was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment under the ATP 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 2013, Reeyot won the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.” Ethiopia now has at least 19 journalists jailed for their work –more than any other country in Africa. Nine of these, including the Zone 9 bloggers, were arrested and charged in 2014 under the country’s ATP. Ethiopia has charged in absentia other journalists for crimes related to their work. According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia now has the most self-exiled journalists after Iran. We call on the government to release Reeyot who is imprisoned simply for exercising her right to freedom of expression. We urge the government to refrain from using its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas.

Vietnam: Ta Phong Tan

Free the Press: Ta Phong Tan, Vietnam2013 State Department International Woman of Courage award winner Ta Phong Tan is a Vietnamese blogger, who was arrested in 2011 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code (“anti-state propaganda”) after she wrote and posted articles online alleging government corruption. She was sentenced in 2012 to 10 years’ in prison with another two years of house arrest to follow. She was a former police officer and member of the Communist Party, before being expelled after writing articles reporting police abuses and criticizing the Party. She was among the first bloggers to write and comment on political news events long considered off-limits by authorities. We call on the Government of Vietnam to release her immediately and to allow all Vietnamese to express their political views freely, both online and offline.

China: Gao Yu

Free the Press in China Gao Yu71-year-old veteran journalist Gao Yu was sentenced to seven years in jail and one year Deprivation of Political Rights April 17, 2015, on charges of “leaking state secrets overseas.” The “state secret” she was accused of leaking was actually a Communist Party document that had already been widely circulated, including on the Internet, warning cadres to resist Western values. Ms. Gao’s April 28, 2014, arrest came as authorities detained dozens of rights activists and dissidents ahead of the 25th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Legal contacts note she was not provided timely access to an attorney, and that she was coerced into making a confession that was televised May 8. Gao Yu reportedly suffers from significant health problems. We call on the Chinese authorities to release her immediately.

Syria: Mazen Darwish, Hani al-Zitani, and Hussein Ghrer  

Free the Press in Syria: Mazen Darwish, Hani al-Zitani, and Hussein GhrerMazen Darwish is the founder of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and a proponent of free speech in Syria who has been imprisoned by the regime for more than three years. In February 2012, Darwish and his colleagues Hani al-Zitani and Hussein Ghrer were working to expose the Asad regime’s atrocities when regime security forces raided their offices and locked them away. They were held for two years without charge and an additional year without trial after charges were filed. On the afternoon of April 15th, a counter-terrorism court judge delayed the trial to April 28, 2015 without justification, though a presidential general amnesty decree in June 2014 had already pardoned those accused of “promoting terrorist acts.” Well-documented horrific abuse and torture within the Syrian detention system has shocked the conscience of the international community, and tens of thousands of Syrian activists and political prisoners have been arrested and detained for exercising their universal right to free expression. We reiterate our call for the Asad regime to release Darwish and his colleagues, along with all arbitrarily detained journalists and political prisoners.

"I know that you're not going to give up and I have great confidence in the future of press freedom and the commitment of journalists of every description to go out and find the truth and report on it no matter where they are and what the resistance and no matter how stark the danger, no matter how many efforts are made to shut you down."-Secretary Kerry at the Journalist Security Conference, January 2015

Free the Press Archive

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Under Secretary Sarah Sewall talking about Democracy and Human Rights: Shared Challenges and Opportunities

Americans and Hungarians, each a mix of different peoples and cultures, share a history of fighting for fundamental freedoms. That is the duty of citizens – to hold fast to democratic values, institutions, and fundamental freedoms while adapting to the new challenges of modernity and the international environment. ...Read More
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May 24, 2016 | President Barack Obama

I should note that there were several other activists who were invited who were prevented from coming for various reasons. And I think it’s an indication of the fact that, although there has been some modest progress and it is our hope that through some of the legal reforms that are being drafted and passed there will be more progress, there are still folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organize peacefully around issues that they care deeply about. ...Read More
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Joint Statement: Between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
May 23, 2016 | Office of the Press Secretary

White House Logo

At the invitation of the President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang, President of the United States of America Barack Obama paid an historic visit to Vietnam to celebrate the Comprehensive Partnership between the two countries and to advance their shared vision for the future. On the occasion of the visit and the May 23, 2016 meeting between the two leaders, the United States and Vietnam adopted this Joint Statement. ...Read More