CPJ, 192 Partner Organizations Urge UN Secretary General to Secure Release of 250 Jailed Journalists

CPJ, 192 Partner Organizations Urge UN Secretary General to Secure Release of 250 Jailed Journalists

…Say they Are at Risk Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 193 partner organisations across the world have asked the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres to take immediate action to secure the freedom of Journalists jailed around the world whose lives are now at risk due to the spread

…Say they Are at Risk Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 193 partner organisations across the world have asked the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres to take immediate action to secure the freedom of Journalists jailed around the world whose lives are now at risk due to the spread of COVID-19 pandemic   

In a letter dated May 5th, 2020, and written on behalf of the #FreeThePress campaign, made up of 193 press freedom and human rights organizations and the more than 11,337 concerned citizens who signed the petition, the coalition says “we urge you to take immediate action to secure the release of Journalists jailed around the world whose lives are risk due to the spread of COVID-19.”

“For Journalists who have been jailed for their work, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned Journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care. Many of these Journalists are already in poor or failing health.

According to the CPJ’s most recent prison census, there were at least 250 journalists behind bars in at least 33 countries. While some of those have been released, others still have been arrested.

“Collectively we have written several letters to leaders of countries where Journalists are jailed for their work; to the European External Action Service; and to UN Special Rapporteurs and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging them to use their offices to advocate for the release of those imprisoned.

“We are sharing this petition with you, and with every country currently detaining journalists, in the hopes that you will use your voice to amplify this call by more than 11,000 people to #FreeThePress, and send this message to the member states that make up the United Nations,” the coalition writes.

The World Health Organization states that “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.”

The groups say, “We welcomed the suggestion in your April 23 policy brief, COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together, that member states, “Resort to non-custodial sanctions and release of selected categories of prisoners is needed. Reducing numbers in pre-trial detention, those detained for minor or political offences, near the end of their sentences, or detained unlawfully should be expedited.”

“However, given the urgency of the situation and the vulnerability of these political prisoners, we implore you to take additional measures and make a public statement calling on member states to release jailed journalists immediately. We urge you to use your office to protect a free press and ensure the free flow of information at this crucial time,” the coalition added..

Apart from the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, other groups which endorsed the letter include Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran, Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, African Centre for Media Excellence, The African Editors Forum, AFTE Egypt, AGHS Legal Aid Cell, Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, Alliance Internationale de Journalistes, Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia, Altermidya Network and  Americans for Kashmir.

Others include: Amnesty International India, Article19, Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil, Association des journalistes du Burkina, Association des journalistes indépendants du Bénin, Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, Association of European Journalists, Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Belarusian Association of Journalists, The Bloggers Association of Kenya, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and  Cambodian Center for Independent Media.

Dozens of journalists have died worldwide from the novel coronavirus in the past two months, a press freedom organisation said last week Friday, lamenting that media workers often lack proper protection for covering the pandemic.

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), a Geneva, Switzerland based organisation, warned that many journalists were putting themselves in harm’s way to report on the global crisis, with many falling ill from COVID-19 themselves in the process.

Since March 1, the PEC said it had recorded the deaths of 55 media workers across 23 countries from the virus, although it stressed that it remained unclear if all of them had become infected on the job.

“Journalists are at great risk in this health crisis because they must continue to inform, by going to hospitals, interviewing doctors, nurses, political leaders, specialists, scientists, patients,” PEC said in a statement.

It said that in a range of countries “indispensable protective measures” like physical distancing, quarantines and mask-wearing had not been applied, especially early on in the outbreak.

Ecuador is the hardest-hit country, with at least nine journalists who had succumbed to the virus, followed by the United States, with eight, Brazil with four, and Britain and Spain with three each, it said.

The organisation also echoed warnings from the United Nations that the pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people out of more than 3.2 million infected worldwide, is being used in some countries as an excuse to crackdown on the media.

“Censorship, internet shutdowns, arbitrary detentions of journalists, physical and verbal attacks and emergency laws that restrict press freedom have occurred in recent weeks,” the PEC said.

It added that this was particularly worrying at a time when access to reliable public information was more vital than ever.

“Transparency is paramount and can be life-saving in a health crisis,” the organisation said.     

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