World Press Freedom Day
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressmen James P. McGovern and Joseph R. Pitts, the Co-Chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, issued the following statement in recognition of World Press Freedom Day:
A free and independent media is a pillar of democracy. Yet media professionals today face alarming, and at times life-threatening, barriers to their work. In its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders documents a troubling worldwide trend of declining media freedom. Freedom House similarly reports that in 2015 press freedom declined to its lowest point in twelve years.
Across the globe, authoritarian regimes are cracking down on independent media by locking up professionals and citizens alike. Journalists have been detained while covering protests in Bahrain and Egypt. Bloggers in China and Ethiopia face long prison sentences for breaking overly broad cybercrime laws. Authorities in Azerbaijan, Burma, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are notorious for incarcerating dissident voices on trumped-up charges. The repression of the media in Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan is unparalleled. In those countries, where governments control virtually all media, independent journalists are tortured, disappeared into prisons, and held incommunicado for years.
Other states seek to silence the media through intimidation and censorship. Plainclothes police officers in Vietnam beat the citizen journalists and bloggers who serve as the only non-state media sources in the country. In Sudan, authorities have suspended whole newspapers and confiscated entire print runs. Earlier this year, the Turkish government orchestrated a physical takeover of the country’s largest independent newspaper, forcibly removing editors from the premises and tear-gassing protestors.
Authoritarian rule is not the only threat facing the press. Media professionals reporting from war zones risk detention, kidnapping, and death. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that since 1992, 1,189 journalists have been killed on the job. Of those, 250 died in crossfire or combat. While working on the front lines carries inherent dangers, increasingly media professionals have been made intentional targets, in contravention of international law. The hazards facing the press have restricted the flow of information from combat zones, inhibiting the international community’s ability to understand the consequences of war and to respond to humanitarian catastrophes and atrocities.
Freedom of the press is also threatened by criminals and extremists. In Mexico and South America, organized crime and drug cartels threaten and murder journalists who call attention to their crimes. Extremists in Bangladesh, Libya, Nigeria, and areas controlled by the Islamic State target anyone offering a counter-narrative, as we have seen with Charlie Hebdo in France and Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently of Syria. The murders of journalists are designed not only to silence the individual victims, but also to create a chilling effect on others who would speak out, especially in countries whose governments cannot or will not provide protection.
Despite these immense dangers, members of the press continue to seek and report the truth. Today, we remember those professionals and citizens who have given their lives in service of the freedoms of press and expression, and we renew our call for the immediate and unconditional release of the following:
Khadija Ismayilova, Azerbaijan
Abduljalil Al-Singace, Bahrain
Ahmed Humaidan, Bahrain
Ilham Tohti, China
Kunchok Tsephel, China
Liu Xianbin, China
Dr. Liu Xiaobo, China
Jose Antonio Torres, Cuba
Dawit Isaak, Eritrea
Eskinder Nega, Ethiopia
Woubshet Taye, Ethiopia
Ebrimah Manneh, Gambia
Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia
Muhammed Bekjanov, Uzbekistan
Francis Jang Xuan Dieu, Vietnam
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Vietnam