press freedom

 

  • A Free and Diverse Media is Essential to Protecting Democracy in the 21st Century

    By Danny Sriskandarajah

    Images of protestors flooding the streets – whether in Caracas, Bucharest, Istanbul or Washington DC – send a powerful message to those in power, especially when they are plastered across newspaper front pages. In far too many countries, the response has been to shut down the space for citizens to organise and undermine the ability for dissent to be reported. Even in the most mature of democracies, the ability of citizens to organise and mobilise, and the freedom of journalists to report when they do, are being undermined. In an era of rising populism and spreading curbs on fundamental freedoms, we need to do more to protect civic rights and press freedom.

    Read on: Inter Press Service 

     

  • Algeria: Arbitrary detention of journalist Khaled Drareni another blow to democratic transition

    العربية

    The undersigned civil society groups are alarmed at the continued and escalating attacks on civic space in Algeria and call on the government to end their crackdown on journalistic and other public freedoms. Despite President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announcing his desire to break with previous repressive practices, freedom of expression especially has come under severe attack since March 2020, with several journalists facing arbitrary arrest and prosecution for conducting their work in the country.

    Illustrative of this intensifying crackdown, journalist Khaled Drareni was arrested on 29 March 2020 for filming a protest and was sentenced to two years in prison on appeal on 15 September. We strongly condemn the harsh and arbitrary sentencing of Drareni, and call for his immediate release and for charges against him to be dropped.

    Restrictions on free assembly have also intensified following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the decision taken by the Hirak grassroots pro-democracy movement to suspend its weekly protests that had started in February 2019. Included in these restrictions is the arbitrary detention and prosecution of individuals associated with the protest movement and those who express support for it in multiple forums.

    Article 50 of the Algerian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but the legal framework still infringes on this right. Law 12-05 of 2012 (or the Law on Information) requires publishing houses to seek prior approval from the media regulatory authority for publications and violations can include fines of up to 500,000 dinars (roughly US$3900.00). On 23 April 2020, the Algerian parliament further reinforced this repressive legal environment by adopting amendments to the Penal Code that include harsh prison sentences for the dissemination of false information during a public health crisis, or for accessing funding (whether local or international) that the state deems “likely to undermine state security, stability, or normal functioning of [state] institutions,” or to undermine “the fundamental interests of Algeria” or “public security and order.” Algeria is rated “repressed” on the CIVICUS Monitor and is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2019 and 27 places lower than in 2015.

    In this context, activists, artists and journalists have been increasingly detained for their journalist work and social media posts under the false and vague accusations of threatening national unity and inciting protests. The National Union of Magistrates (SNM) has also denounced the abusive recourse to pre-trial detention.

    Under these worsening civic space conditions, and taking into consideration the health risks posed to detainees by COVID-19, the undersigned are notably concerned for:

    • Algerian journalists, activists, and lawyers, including Said Boudour (a journalist facing charges of ‘defamation’ and ‘insulting the regime’, Amel Hadjadj (a woman human rights defender facing ongoing intimidation, including an arbitrary arrest on 21 November 2019 where she was physically abused), and Halim Feddal (founder of the Algerian National Association Against Corruption sentenced to six month’s imprisonment on 3 March 2020). 
    • Reporter Abdelkrim Zeghileche, who was sentenced to two years in prison on 24 August 2020 after he called for the creation of a new political party and criticized President Tebboune, and
    • Activist Abdullah Benaoum, detained since December 2019, whose health is in very critical condition, and whose latest petition for pretrial release was rejected on 2 September 
    • Khaled Drareni, who was arrested alongside two protestors and activists, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche, and sentenced on appeal to two years’ imprisonment. 

    Drareni, who is editor of the Casbah Tribune news site and correspondent for TV5 Monde and Reporters without Borders, has been arbitrarily detained since 29 March 2020 solely for doing his job as a journalist. According to Amnesty International, Drareni was arrested while filming police approach protestors on 27 March 2020. On 10 August 2020, he was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “endangering national unity” for his work covering the Hirak protests over the past year. Drareni was also charged a fine of 50,000 Dinars (roughly, US$390). During the appeal hearing on 8 September, the prosecution had requested four years in prison and a 50,000 DA fine against Drareni.

    Following his initial sentencing on 10 August, solidarity protests calling for his release have erupted across the country, beginning in Algiers. Drareni attended his appeal on 8 September and appeared thin and weak, which prompted the national and international Khaled Drareni Support Committees to call for his immediate release on urgent health grounds

    In a joint statement issued on 16 September, UN Special Procedures condemned the jail sentence against the Algerian journalist and called for his release. The experts also called on Algeria to “halt the arrest and detention of political activists, lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders, as well as any person who expresses dissent or criticism of the government,”, and affirmed that “Drareni, and all the others currently in prison, or awaiting trial simply for doing their job and defending human rights must be immediately released and protected.”

    Given the current threats facing Drareni and all detained prisoners of conscience, urgent action is needed from the international community to ensure his release and call for an end to restrictions facing journalists, protestors and activists in Algeria. The undersigned specifically call on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN Special Procedures; UN Member States; and the European Union, including Parliament, EEAS and Member States; to urge Algerian authorities to:

    1. Immediately and unconditionally release Khaled Drareni, dropping all charges against him;
    2. Immediately and unconditionally release all protestors, activists and journalists arbitrarily detained for their peaceful protests, activities and reporting, notably on the Hirak movement; 
    3. Revise the legal framework, including the Penal Code, the 2012 Law on Information and the Law No. 09-04 of August 5, 2009, in line with international best practice to protect the right to freedom of expression in the country;
    4. Devise a plan to roll back the April amendment designed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, are time-limited, in line with international human rights standards, to ensure that these do not unduly curtail civic freedoms; and
    5. Cease all judicial harassment and intimidation against all protestors, activists and journalists and those facing restrictions for expressing their opinions online.

    The undersigned,

    Article19
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    CIVICUS
    Collectif des Familles de Disparus en Algérie
    Freedom House
    Freedom Initiative
    Humena for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
    MENA Rights Group
    Reporters without Borders (RSF)

     

  • Journalists on the front lines of global assault

    By Cathal Gilbert, David Kode and Teldah Mawarire

    With reporters under attack the world over, it is imperative that citizens rally to protect press freedom. We live in a time when hard-won human rights protections are at risk of being swept aside by a rising tide of authoritarianism, fear mongering and xenophobia. The resulting global assault on fundamental civic freedoms is, in turn, devastating press freedom and exposing an increasing number of journalists to the threat of censure, the loss of livelihood and physical attack.

    Read on: News24

     

  • Malaysia: Drop contempt proceedings against online news outlet Malaysiakini

    Joint statement by Article 19 and CIVICUS

     

  • Malaysia: End harassment and intimidation of media workers and critics

    Joint Statement with Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists

    The Malaysian authorities must immediately put an end to their increasing attacks on freedom of expression, especially the media, international non-governmental organisations Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. Laws incompatible with international human rights law and standards, including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998, are being used to limit free speech and press freedom and should be repealed by the legislature.

    In the latest move in the ongoing clampdown on criticism and other expression, authorities have targeted those involved in making the documentary “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” by news broadcaster Al Jazeera and its 101 East series – which reported on the authorities’ arrests of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Al-Jazeera is being investigated for sedition and defamation, and has also been accused of breaching the Communications and Multimedia Act by the Malaysian authorities.

    On 3 July 2020, Al Jazeera on its 101 East Stream published a documentary that investigated the arrests, detention, and ill-treatment of refugees and undocumented migrant workers during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malaysia. The documentary highlighted raids conducted by authorities; the inhumane conditions of detention; and the situation of migrant workers who fear arrest. Those detained were found to be held in cramped facilities, while migrant workers at risk of detention suffered from a severe lack of adequate food. The documentary also highlighted the chilling effect the government crackdown has had on the migrant worker community, who fear for their lives and safety.

    Rather than addressing the concerns raised in the documentary, the government has instead sought to question the reporters involved, and pursue migrant workers who spoke with Al Jazeera. By initiating a public campaign against migrants and refugees and publishing personal details of the migrant workers who were featured in the report, the authorities have also placed the lives and safety of those interviewed in jeopardy.

    The government’s subsequent threats to revoke the visas of foreign workers appears intended to intimidate other migrant workers from speaking up about human rights violations, including mistreatment. These actions have contributed to a worrying rise in intolerance towards freedom of expression, including critical views.

    Amnesty International, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) consider these actions as forms of harassment and intimidation of the media, migrant workers, and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, including criticism or dissent.

    The use of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, and criminal investigations against the media set a dangerous precedent and are incompatible with international law and standards. These laws place restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression that are overly broad, unnecessary and disproportionate, and inconsistent with rule of law and human rights principles.

    We reiterate their our previous calls on the Government of Malaysia to abolish both laws, which have historically been used to silence voices of those challenging government policy.

    Background

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged earlier this year, the Malaysian government has launched a crackdown on refugees, asylum-seekers and migrant workers, carrying out a series of raids on settlements in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Most notably, raids were carried out as Labour Day operations on 1 May 2020, but also continued afterwards.

    In response to these raids, the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the crackdowns on migrant workers and journalists on 21 May. Migrant workers fear for their safety and there have been reports of suicide amongst them.

    Amid growing concerns about the crackdown, the government has increasingly sought to silence criticism.

    On 7 July, refugee aid worker Heidy Quah was questioned by police for posting a statement on the raids and the treatment of migrant and refugee children on social media. Her lawyer confirmed that she is being investigated under the Penal Code for criminal defamation and the Communications and Multimedia Act for the ‘improper use of network facilities or network service’.

    Since the Perikatan Nasional government assumed power, numerous investigations have been launched against individuals who have criticized government actions. Since February 2020, a journalist has been investigated by police for reporting on immigration raids; a member of parliament was investigated for criticising the May parliamentary session for not permitting debates; and a large number of ordinary Malaysians have been convicted for a variety of social media postings, including for criticising the enforcement of quarantine orders under the Movement Control Order (MCO).

    In another recent attack on media freedom, on 2 July 2020, contempt of court charges were filed against Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of online news outlet Malaysiakini, over comments that were posted by readers that were allegedly critical of the judiciary. The Federal Court will next hear the case on 13 July. If convicted, Gan faces an unlimited prison sentence or fine.


    Civic space in Malaysia is rated as Obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Pacific Island leaders are tightening the screws on press freedom, dissent

    By Josef Benedict, CIVICUS  civic space research officer. 

    It’s not only climate change and rising sea levels that threaten the lives and well-being of Pacific Islanders. Rising levels of official intolerance of dissent and free speech across the region poses a threat to the well-being of their democracies.
    Read on: Asian Correspondent

     

  • Press freedom vital in the fight against the pandemic

    hopewell chinono

    Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin'ono. Credit: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

    By , Researcher with CIVICUS

    Access to accurate information is vitally important during the pandemic, so that people can understand how to protect themselves and their families, and to hold their governments to account for their response to the health emergency.

    Just like the virus, the persecution of the press has no borders, affecting journalists in many countries across the region. In its latest global report, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic freedoms, documented that journalists had been detained in at least 28 African countries. This was the top civic rights violation recorded in Africa during the past year.

    Read on Inter Press Service News 

     

  • The Press and the New President: A Review of Freedom of Speech in Kyrgyzstan

    By Ann-Sofie Nyman and Bobbie Jo Traut

    In November, Kyrgyzstan inaugurated its new president Sooronbay Jeenbekov who has promised to continue the previous presidential administration’s policies. This does not bode well for independent journalists and other critical voices who were publicly labeled as national enemies, threatened and taken to court under the previous president’s tenure. 

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier 

     

  • World Press Freedom Day - Journalism Assailed On All Fronts

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, marks today’s World Press Freedom Day with a call for greater protection and respect for journalists and the vital contribution they make to healthy societies.

    Rising authoritarianism and regressive politics signal a new front in the fight to protect and extend press freedom – and the right of citizens to be informed. Globally journalists are on the front line of a sustained assault on civic freedoms from state and non-state actors.

    The determination of populist leaders to shape and control dominant narratives, together with the rise of fake news, extremist groups and increasing commercial pressure means journalists now not only face detention without trial and criminalisation for doing their jobs, they also face physical attacks, loss of life and livelihoods.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the quality of civic space in every country, records 101 attacks on journalists between June 2016 and March 2017. It indicates that journalists are often at risk of attack for reporting on political issues, protests, conflicts and state corruption.

    The International Press Institute (IPI) provides further evidence of the risks that journalists face, reporting that at least 83 journalists died as a direct result of their practice in 2016, with almost half of all deaths occurring when journalists were covering armed conflict, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

    The findings underline the inextricable link between media freedom and civil society freedom - where one is weakened, so is the other. If dissent is to be accepted as an essential part of participatory democracy, then the essential civil society freedoms – of association and peaceful assembly, as well as expression – must be fought for.

    “At a time when independent, critical journalism is desperately needed, such journalism is desperately assailed. A free and independent media is a key ally of civil society in the quest for sustainable development, social justice and human rights. Attacks on the media usually go hand-in-hand with attacks on civil society, and are a barometer of the levels of injustice, corruption and authoritarianism in any society,” warns Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS.

    "The fight against the current regressive politics, in defence of human rights, can only be won if stronger connections are made between civil society and the independent media. We are being attacked together, we must fight back together," concludes Tiwana.

    ENDS

    EDITORS’ NOTE:

    CIVICUS is the global alliance of civil society organisations and activists

    www.civicus.org

    Contact:

     

  • Yemen: Over 150 NGOs appeal for death sentences of four journalists to be overturned

    Arabic

    Organisations which support human rights, press freedom and journalists are calling on United Nations mechanisms and member states to help save the lives of four Yemeni journalists who were sentenced to death in April 2020 in the capital Sana’a on charges of “spying” and “spreading false news.” Of the six other journalists in the same case whom the judge ordered to be freed, after five years in detention, only one has been released so far. The de facto authorities in Sana’a, the Houthis, must immediately overturn the death sentences and free the other nine journalists who have been convicted in violation of their right to freedom of expression.