News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2015

US cites CPJ in remarks on World Press Freedom Day

Each year, World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity for press freedom organizations to put anti-press violations on the map. This year, CPJ did just that.

In U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement commemorating World Press Freedom Day, he cited CPJ research: “This is a critically important time to acknowledge the contributions of journalists. As the Committee to Protect Journalists recently reported, this is the ‘most deadly and dangerous period for journalists in recent history.'”

Kerry’s words echoed the theme found in CPJ’s 2015 Attacks on the Press, that journalists are caught between terrorists and governments. The secretary of state said, “From violent extremists and criminal gangs who abduct and kill reporters to authoritarian governments that persecute them, press freedom is under attack.”

CPJ staff also participated in a number of World Press Freedom Day initiatives. (See below for more details.)

Journalists freed …

… in Bahrain

Welcome news on the heels of World Press Freedom day was the release of Bahraini journalist Ammar Abdulrasool. The photographer, who was arrested on July 24 during a raid on his house by security officers, was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of participating in riots and possessing Molotov cocktails, according to news reports. He was freed on bail on May 4.

Abdulrasool was one of six journalists in prison in Bahrain during CPJ’s most recent prison census. The journalist was also profiled in CPJ’s Press Uncuffed campaign, which calls on governments to free journalists imprisoned for doing their jobs.

… in Mexico

CPJ welcomes the release from prison of Pedro Celestino Canché Herrera, an independent Mexican journalist and an activist for Mayan causes. Canché was released from jail on May 29 after being imprisoned for almost nine months on charges of sabotage in the state of Quintana Roo. A local court declared Canché innocent of the charges and ordered him to be released, his lawyer told CPJ.

Canche was also featured in CPJ’s Press Uncuffed campaign. Because of his imprisonment, Mexico appeared in CPJ’s 2014 prison census for the first time since 2006 and was the only country in the Americas–besides Cuba–to be included.

Drawing attention to cartoonists in danger

“Cartoons generate a really emotional response that can transcend languages or borders,” Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, told The New York Times on May 19, the day CPJ released its first-ever report on the global threats to cartoonists.

Drawing the Line: Cartoonists Under Threat provides an in-depth look at the risks that political cartoonists face from both militant extremists and governments. While the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 shed some light on the dangers confronting cartoonists, CPJ pointed out that threats against cartoonists are a global phenomenon and are as diverse as the content of the cartoons themselves. The report explores the crackdowns on cartoonists by examining cases in Malaysia, India, South Africa, Bangladesh, Venezuela, the United States, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Iran.

Globally, journalists “are caught between terrorism and governments who are purporting to fight terrorism, but are curbing free speech more generally,” Beiser told the Times. “Obviously there is a security threat, but so much legislation is written in such a vague manner that it is open to political abuse.”

The report was widely covered in other local and international outlets including the Guardian and Voice of America.

UN Security Council passes draft resolution on journalist security

The UN Security Council on May 27 unanimously passed a draft resolution condemning all abuses and violations against journalists. The resolution called on all parties in situations of armed conflict to comply with international law and do their utmost to prevent violations against journalists. The resolution also called on all parties to conflict and all member states to create a safe environment in which journalists can carry out their duty.

For years, CPJ has advocated for the safety of journalists, both within the international community and with individual states themselves. In June 2013, Associated Press Executive Editor and CPJ Vice Chair Kathleen Carroll, noted at the UN Security Council that “most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire; they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved, the killers rarely ever punished.”

The May 27 open debate at the UN Security Council featured Mariane Pearl, wife of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002. The debate also paid special tribute to the work of France-based Reporters Without Borders, which has long advocated for the resolution. Christophe Deloire, head of RSF, who was at the Security Council, called it “an historic day for the protection of journalists and also, we hope, for freedom of information.”

The resolution is a significant statement but, as CPJ noted when launching this year’s Attacks on the Press, member states also have a responsibility to ensure that the actions they take in response to the terror threat do not further inhibit the work of journalists. CPJ also raised this in a press conference at the UN on April 27.

Fighting impunity in Colombia

Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, just returned from a meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, where the president pledged to prioritize combating impunity in attacks against journalists.

Lauría also visited the presidential palace in Colombia in 2010, as part of a CPJ-FLIP delegation, and met with former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. But that meeting, Lauría said, went very differently.

“Then, we were discussing how Colombia’s national intelligence was allegedly spying on journalists. That conversation distracted us from the main issues–the dangers that Colombian journalists face, including lethal violence and impunity in journalist murders.”

This time, Lauría said, the delegation was able to meet not only with the president but also with prosecutors from the attorney general’s office. The conversation was very open and very frank, he said. “We were able to address all the issues were hadn’t been able to before.”

The delegation brought up a number of journalist attacks and murders and discussed them “case by case,” Lauría said. The cases included the 2002 murder of print journalist Orlando Sierra; the 2000 attack against reporter Jineth Bedoya; the attack against editor Ricardo Calderón in 2013; and the threats made in 2013 against investigative reporter Gonzalo Guillén.

Santos told the delegation: “I am the person who is most interested in those cases being solved. It is a priority for my government.”

The delegation, which visited the national palace known as Casa de Nariño on May 26, included Lauría; Pedro Vaca Villarreal, FLIP’s executive director; John Otis, CPJ’s Andes correspondent for the Americas; Andrés Morales, a member of CPJ’s Americas program advisory group; and Ignacio Gómez, FLIP board member and 2002 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.

In our own words

In his column in May for the Columbia Journalism Review, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon discussed how technology has transformed the act of witnessing from a subjective and personal experience to something that is shared. “In its most stripped down, elemental form,” Simon argued, journalism is “nothing more than gathering information and disseminating it to the public.”

CPJ’s Asia research associate, Sumit Galhotra, was quoted in a Foreign Policy article about the dangers of reporting in South Asia, particularly India. “Journalists are being threatened and silenced by various non-state actors that include religious and political groups, criminal elements, and corporate houses,” he said. “The state has been clamping down on media freedoms and engaging in flagrant censorship. The Modi government’s recent ban on Al Jazeera and documentaries like India’s Daughter are prime examples.”

Where we’ve been

May 3, 2015: CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch spoke about physical and digital security for journalists at UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age” in Riga, Latvia.

May 3, 2015: Cheryl Gould, CPJ’s board member, was on the panel “Defending press freedom today: new tools, new challenges,” at the Beirut Spring Festival.

May 6, 2015: CPJ’s EU correspondent, Jean-Paul Marthoz, spoke on a panel in Brussels called “Democracy in crisis: freedom of the media under threat in the EU & its neighbourhood,” in which he discussed press laws in authoritarian regimes.

May 7, 2015: Frank Smyth, the founder and executive director of Global Journalist Security and CPJ’s senior adviser on journalist security, participated in a panel called “Finding Security in Unsafe Passages: Protecting Journalists’ Safety & Rights” about the challenges journalists face in the field. The panel was presented by the National Writers Union at the UN.

May 21, 2015: CPJ’s East Africa correspondent, Tom Rhodes, addressed the state of press freedom in Kenya at the Mohamed Amin Africa Media Awards held at Kenya’s Multimedia University. The awards, which were named after videographer and photographer Mo Amin, were accompanied by a training workshop for journalists from across the continent.

May 22, 2015: CPJ board member Sheila Coronel, joined Latin American and international journalists at the Central American Journalism Forum and discussed the risks that journalists face in the region. CPJ’s Americas research associate, Sara Rafsky, also attended the forum.

June 3, 2015: CPJ’s advocacy director, Courtney C. Radsch, moderated two debates, held at the WAN-IFRA World Media Policy Forum in Washington, about the media’s challenges, addressing Internet governance and the key issues of privacy versus freedoms and the right to be forgotten.

Upcoming events

June 18, 2015: The Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch are co-presenting The Unravelling: Human rights reporting and digital storytelling. The film follows Human Rights Watch Emergencies director Peter Bouckaert and leading photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale as they cover the war in the Central African Republic. Tickets can be purchased here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The text above has been corrected to reflect that Bahraini photographer Ammar Abdulrasool was released on bail after being sentenced to two years in prison.