President of the French Republic
Hand-delivered via Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations in New York
September 19, 2017
Dear President Macron,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, thanks you for the opportunity to meet with you on the sideline of the U.N. General Assembly and urges you to champion the protection of journalists and press freedom at home and around the world.
Journalists are under threat as never before. CPJ works globally to track, report, and advocate on behalf of individual journalists and speak out against press freedom violations. We have found a wide range, including government harassment and imprisonment of journalists, increasingly on anti-terrorism or national security grounds; journalists targeted with violence and killed by state and non-state actors; and impunity in cases of murdered journalists. We are also receiving a steady stream of emergency requests from journalists facing threats.
At a time when many democratic states are wavering on press freedom, France has provided critical global leadership through advocacy on individual cases, supporting press freedom initiatives, and issuing visas and providing safe haven to local and international journalists.
We urge you to continue and to strengthen this work.
France is uniquely situated to bring press freedom issues to the fore. Your government has the ability to effectively address global press freedom violations directly with foreign governments. There are a series of steps we believe France could take to demonstrate its leadership.
France plays a unique role in shaping international norms and policy, particularly in Europe. CPJ is concerned by regressive trends within the European Union, some of which are detailed in our 2015 report, “Balancing Act: Press freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with values.” The EU strives to be a global leader in press freedom but some member states have criminal defamation and blasphemy laws, while others have introduced counterterrorism measures, including mass surveillance, which can be abused to disrupt journalist’s work. In addition, the EU has made press freedom imperative in negotiating with candidate countries, but has failed to consistently take strong action when member states renege on their press freedom commitments.
In Cameroon, the government has used anti-terrorism laws to imprison journalists, including Ahmed Abba, a correspondent for Radio France Internationale’s Hausa service who is serving a 10-year prison sentence in relation to his reporting on Boko Haram in Cameroon. His next appeal date is Thursday, September 21. CPJ strongly urges your government to speak out and raise Abba’s case with Cameroonian officials in international forums such as the General Assembly.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has long been a dangerous place for journalists, but the past year stands out for its pattern of press freedom violations, including journalists being detained and even attacked by security personnel. The timing of the country’s planned elections is in doubt. CPJ urges your government to consider providing diplomatic support to journalists in the DRC and include press freedom as a cornerstone of any diplomatic efforts to resolve political crises and build peace.
In Congo-Brazzaville, Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemba, editor of the newspaper Talassa, has been jailed for more than eight months without any charges disclosed. Congolese Public Prosecutor André Oko Ngakala has stated Bemba is under investigation for “complicity in undermining state security.” CPJ urges your government to call on President Denis Sassou Nguesso to see that he is immediately released without charge.
In Vietnam, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, popularly known by her pen name Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), has been imprisoned since October 2016. After a one-day trial on June 29, 2017, Quynh was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She is one of several journalists detained on charges of “propagandizing against the state” in Vietnam for reporting on environmental degradation, political corruption, and police abuse. CPJ urges you and French officials to raise this and other cases with Vietnamese officials.
Governments have justified some of their actions as counters to violent extremism. Violent extremism is a threat, but so are government attempts to address it by restricting fundamental civil liberties.
By raising these issues with governments, France can help to secure freedom for individual journalists. Your government can also help in the pursuit of justice and the building of more secure societies. Over the past 18 months, prominent journalists killed include Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine, Javier Valdez in Mexico, and Gauri Lankesh in India. Governments have been lax in pursuing justice. We urge you to address this in your foreign diplomacy, through your engagement with the United Nations, and as co-chair of the Group of Friends on the Protection of Journalists.
CPJ is also concerned by increasing accusations of fake news, often by political leaders in the West who aim to delegitimize the press. At the same time, technology companies are wrestling with the proliferation of misinformation and propaganda on the internet. It is imperative to address the problem without infringing on the right to free expression and the free flow of information. Authoritarian leaders are using government regulation of information as a pretext for restricting critical speech online. We urge you to caution against a crackdown on media companies over fake news, and to advocate self-regulation by tech companies that is transparent, subject to independent oversight, and includes a path to remedy for those affected.
In order to advocate successfully for press freedom worldwide, France must uphold the highest standards at home. CPJ is concerned about an ongoing criminal defamation suit against two journalists who criticized Azerbaijan; we would not want to see French courts abused by repressive governments to spread a chilling effect beyond their borders. Furthermore, as our colleagues at Reporters Sans Frontières have noted, some provisions in France’s proposed counter-terrorism law would undermine the ability of journalists to work freely and protect the confidentiality of their communications and sources.
Press freedom is a cornerstone of any free, prosperous nation. The global threats to journalists and media outlets demand that governments work together to protect the right to report and publish.
We thank you for prioritizing press freedom and urge you to continue and intensify your efforts to protect journalists.
“Journalists Not Terrorists: In Cameroon, anti-terror legislation is used to silence critics and suppress dissent,” advanced copy of forthcoming CPJ special report
“Balancing Act: Press freedom at risk as EU struggles to match action with values,” CPJ 2015 special report