CPJ calls on Belgium to defend press freedom at Committee of Ministers

November 18, 2014 2:19 PM ET

November 18, 2014

Didier Reynders,

Foreign Minister of Belgium

Rue des Petits Carmes, 15

1000 Brussels

Via Facsimile: +32 (0)2 513 25 97

Via Email: [email protected]

Dear Foreign Minister Reynders,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international press freedom organization, welcomes the statement you made on November 2, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, which underscored the critical role journalists play and highlighted how the media is undermined by intimidation and violence.

As Belgium assumes the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, CPJ commends it for underlining in its priorities as chair the need to enforce the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and promote better cooperation between the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, three institutions that hold press freedom as a fundamental value.

CPJ research shows that in many attacks against journalists in Europe it is the authorities who either sanction repression through draconian decrees or court orders, or perpetuate violence against our colleagues by failing to investigate murders and assaults. In Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Turkey, and Azerbaijan freedom of expression has been severely curtailed and journalists face attacks and repression.

In Russia for instance, no one has yet been brought to justice for the murder of investigative journalist Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed in Moscow 20 years ago. Since his murder, more than two dozen journalists in Russia have been murdered with impunity, CPJ research shows. A rise in self-censorship is linked to repressive government action including imprisoning journalists, executive orders to fire independent editors, the blocking of critical websites, and the removal of independent broadcasters from cable networks. The adoption of recent laws that criminalize libel, impose restrictions against bloggers, ban advertising for independent broadcasting, and cut foreign investments in domestic media have also contributed to the demise of press freedom in Russia.

In Azerbaijan, which chaired the Committee prior to Belgium, authorities mocked the council's mandate by jailing critical journalists and human rights advocates. Authorities there also worked to silence the media through fines, public vilification of critical reporters in pro-government media, travel bans, state-sanctioned intimidation, and the harassment of media support groups including our partner, the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety. It also imposed restrictive press legislation including criminal defamation laws that were extended to the Internet.

In Ukraine, journalists who cover the conflict with pro-Russia separatists have been facing abductions, arbitrary detentions, obstruction to broadcasting, physical attacks, and killings, CPJ findings show. At least seven journalists and media workers have been killed with impunity while reporting on the crisis. In Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by force by Russia in March, the independent media are facing targeted attacks and draconian Russian anti-press freedom laws, CPJ found during a fact-finding visit in July.

In Turkey, despite a recent decrease in the number of imprisoned journalists, reporters continue to face fear, censorship, and retaliatory prosecutions. And in Hungary, CPJ found a disturbing record of backsliding on press freedom and fundamental rights during its advocacy mission to Budapest in October. CPJ believes further international scrutiny of Hungary's press freedom record is needed to avoid a dangerous precedent being set in Europe.

Mr. Reynders, press freedom is under threat in these member states and other parts of Europe. We ask that you use your presidency to defend it.

The Committee of Ministers acts as a guardian to the values of the Council of Europe and, as chair, Belgium should strictly monitor whether these values, including press freedom and freedom of expression, are being respected. It should follow up on recommendations made to member states, publicize breaches and, in the case of violations, propose suspensions or exclusions.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

CPJ Executive Director

CC list:

Dirk Van Eeckhout, Ambassador of Belgium to the Council of Europe

Emin Eyyubov, Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe

Ferenc Robák, Ambassador of Hungary to the Council of Europe

Alexander Alekseev, Ambassador of Russia to the Council of Europe

Erdoğan Şerif Işcan, Ambassador of Turkey to the Council of Europe

Mykola Tochytskyi, Ambassador of Ukraine to the Council of Europe

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe

Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Philippe Mahoux, Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Dunja Mijatovic, Freedom of the Media Representative, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

Guy Berger, Director of Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, UNESCO

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