News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, June 2015

Pushing for press freedom at European Games

Azerbaijan, which ranks in fifth place on CPJ’s list of 10 Most Censored Countries, hosted the first-ever European Games in its capital, Baku, this month. One of the country’s most prominent journalists, Khadija Ismayilova, has been in jail there since December 2014 for reporting on sensitive issues, including corruption and human rights. Ismayilova, who features in CPJ’s Press Uncuffed campaign, is one of eight journalists in prison during the Games. Using the attention focused on Azerbaijan in the run up to the Games, CPJ joined the Sports for Rights coalition to highlight human rights abuses and corruption to Baku 2015 sponsors, Olympic committees, and international institutions. The coalition even convinced Bono from Irish rock band U2 to speak out for freedom of expression on stage in Montreal.

Azerbaijan responded to these efforts by blocking international journalists from covering the event, which garnered attention from CPJ board member Christiane Amanpour as well as the host of satirical TV show “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver. But the campaign created the necessary pressure on Azerbaijan to allow leading media freedom defender Emin Huseynov to leave the country. Huseynov, who spent 10 months in hiding at the Swiss Embassy in Baku to avoid a politically motivated jail term, left Azerbaijan on a Swiss diplomatic plane the day the Games started.

On April 30, CPJ and Human Rights Watch met with the European Olympic Committees (EOC) leadership in Dublin to raise concerns about censorship and human rights issues. The meeting elicited a statement from the EOC that read: “It is not the EOC’s place to challenge or pass judgment on the legal or political processes of a sovereign nation and, like all sports organizations, we must operate within existing political contexts.” Although the EOC said it was “satisfied with the assurances” it received from Azerbaijani authorities that the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter would be upheld, CPJ is not satisfied. Ismayilova and other journalists remain imprisoned there for their work. If you agree, send the EOC a message telling them you are not satisfied.

CPJ hosts Tech Summit

Journalists, technology company executives, and security experts gathered in San Francisco this month to discuss journalist security at a summit hosted by CPJ. As CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney writes in his blog about the summit, the physical security measures journalists must consider are often second nature, but the importance of technological security is less widely understood.

The event–“Securing the Newsroom”–focused on making digital security accessible to members of the press working in a variety of circumstances. Among those in attendance were journalists and media activists from Pakistan, where official permission is required to use encryption, and Ethiopia, where a group of bloggers were arrested on terrorism charges for taking part in an online encryption course.

By bringing together journalists and those who create the technologies on which they rely, the summit fostered crucial dialogue. Journalists in attendance described the conditions in which they work and the technologists underscored just how vulnerable newsrooms and private data have become. In response, a number of media and tech companies have committed to major reforms that will protect journalists by default, such as supporting more secure reporting and agreeing to moving news sites to the secure HTTPS Web protocol by the end of 2015.

Journalists in prison and exile

This month, CPJ released two reports drawing attention to journalists whose lives have been changed completely in the course of their work. CPJ’s annual Exile Report showed that CPJ assisted 452 exiled journalists in the past five years, with the majority fleeing Syria. The report–which was released just before World Refugee Day on June 20 and called attention to the number of journalists forced into exile by repressive regimes–received international media coverage.

On June 25, an updated census of journalists jailed in Egypt was released in advance of CPJ’s annual global census because of concerns about the deterioration of press freedom in the country. The 18 journalists imprisoned there as of June 1 is the highest number CPJ has ever recorded in Egypt. Among those included in the census is photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has been imprisoned for more than 680 days. Join CPJ in calling on the Egyptian government to immediately release him and the others by joining our #PressUncuffed campaign.

The detention of Al-Jazeera reporter Ahmad Mansour in Germany on June 20, in connection with an Egyptian arrest warrant related to a 2014 conviction on politically motivated charges, prompted CPJ Middle East and North Africa Research Associate Yasmin El-Rifae to note: “With record numbers of journalists in jail in Egypt, Mansour’s arrest is a dangerous example of the government attempting to use international law to pursue journalists it doesn’t like.”

Historic conviction in Colombia

In a welcome move, former regional assemblyman Francisco Ferney Tapasco González was sentenced to 36 years in prison for masterminding the 2002 killing of prominent Colombian journalist Orlando Sierra Hernandez, deputy editor of the daily La Patria.

Last month, President Juan Manuel Santos pledged to make the fight against impunity a priority of his administration in a meeting with CPJ Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría, and Colombian press freedom organization Foundation for a Free Press. Hernandez’s case was highlighted during the presidential meeting.

Thanks from a Nigerian journalist

Joseph Hir, a journalist with the Daily Trust in Nigeria’s Nassarawa state, sent CPJ a thank you note for publicizing his case, in which he was threatened and attacked, and for highlighting it in a letter CPJ sent to President Muhammadu Buhari. Hir told CPJ he believed the attack was in retaliation for an article he had written about a local political party.

“I lack words to express how profoundly grateful I and my family are over your prompt response and action over the assault on me on May 29 . . . Let me still remind you that your prompt response and actions over my arrest and arbitrary detention by the police in May of 2014 compelled them to not only withdraw all charges they trumped on me; they also apologized. They made me and other colleagues there [sic] friends.

Sir, the letter to President Muhammadu Buhari by CPJ, in which there is a copious mention of my ordeal in the hands of the thugs has even proven that your organization look not at profiles. A SMALL Nigerian journalist covering a rural Nassarawa State, I attracted all that attention from an organization based in faraway New York.

[…] To all at CPJ, you are my champions.”

In our own words

In an op-ed for the EU Observer on June 13, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova criticized the EOC for its failure to use its unique leverage with the Azerbaijani government to effect change. “Unless the EOC takes off its rose-tinted glasses, the Games, and, more broadly, the legacy of the Olympic movement, will suffer. Unless it stops praising [Azerbaijani President Ilham] Aliyev even as he tramples on people’s rights, it will miss a chance to make a positive impact,” Ognianova wrote in her piece, “Baku Games: the politics of sport.” She added: “Calling on Azerbaijan to fulfill obligations isn’t politics, it’s adhering to principles.”

On June 17, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon responded in Slate to the annual report released this month by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye, which finds that the ability to seek and receive information is a human right. Simon calls the report a “crucial first step” in undoing the damage that National Security Agency spying has done to the credibility of the U.S. in challenging repressive regimes, and discusses the importance of privacy on the Internet to maintaining a free press. To read more, see “Why Mass Surveillance Violates International Law.

Where we’ve been and where we’ll be

June 3–Courtney Radsch moderated two panels at the World Media Policy Forum, in Washington, D.C., addressing challenges facing the media in a digital society such as privacy, the right to be forgotten, and Internet governance.

June 3 to June 14–Europe and Central Asia Research Associate Muzaffar Suleymanov traveled to Kiev and Vienna to attend the Donbas Media Forum and two journalists’ safety conferences organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Suleymanov also met with representatives of the Ukrainian broadcasting regulator and urged them not to withdraw the license of independent TV channel Inter. The proposed plan to revoke the license attracted media attention. The regulator announced on June 11 that Inter would be granted a seven-year license.

June 18–CPJ co-sponsored The Unravelling at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York, which featured clips of the film as well as a discussion with HRW Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert, photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale, and HRW Deputy Executive Director Carroll Bogert on the challenges of crisis reporting

June 17-19–CPJ advisory board member Paul Steiger served as the Data Journalism Awards jury president at the Global Editors Network summit in Barcelona. CPJ Senior Editor Jessica Jerreat also attended the summit.

June 25–Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour spoke at the annual membership meeting of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia. The topic of the meeting was “Terrorism and the Free Press: Can Democracy Survive?”

June 26 to July 4–CPJ board member Arianna Huffington and advisory board member Gwen Ifill are speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival. CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch, who was selected as an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar, is also attending.