A letter from CPJ's Washington Advocacy Manager

December 23, 2019 6:00 AM ET

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Dear friend of CPJ,

Happy Holidays from Washington, D.C.!

As we reflect on our accomplishments in 2019, we can’t help but take stock of the challenges we faced.

President Trump continues to use his platform to attack the press, giving a stamp of approval to dictators and autocrats who imprison and murder journalists. Congress is divided, and ongoing political turmoil has made it more difficult to keep press freedom on the radar of US officials.

That’s why CPJ has made it a priority to engage with policymakers in Washington—to ensure the U.S. government continues to protect press freedom at home and abroad.

In 2019 we led and joined campaigns for imprisoned and murdered journalists; helped organize events with leading policymakers; strengthened relationships with existing allies and developed new ones. Among the highlights:

  • Protecting journalists at borders. We organized meetings with then Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs Andrew Meehan to clarify guidelines governing encounters with journalists at the U.S. border, and ensure journalists are better protected from secondary screenings and electronic device searches. However when news broke that CBP was tracking journalists through a secret database, the agency canceled and refused to reschedule our next meeting.

    So, we turned our attention to Congressional oversight. Two powerful senators sent the then CBP Commissioner a bipartisan letter demanding answers on the reported database. Soon after, CPJ and partners sent our own letter detailing our concerns, and shared it with Congressional offices. Days later, senators sent a letter echoing many of those concerns.

  • High-level government advocacy. Throughout the year, CPJ met with staff at the State Department, urging them to advocate for press freedom around the world. There are many different examples of our impact. Here are two.

    In August, we appealed privately to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan and Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells, urging them to raise concerns about the communications blackout in Kashmir during their trip to India. The appeal was accompanied by an op-ed for CNN I co-authored with CPJ’s Senior Asia Researcher, Aliya Iftikhar. It was later reported that officials did indeed pressure Indian Prime Minister Modi’s administration on the issue.


    In November, prior to accepting their 2019 International Press Freedom Awards, journalists Patrícia Campos Mello (Brazil), Neha Dixit (India), Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora (Nicaragua), Maxence Melo Mubyazi (Tanzania), and CPJ’s Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award Winner Zaffar Abbas (Pakistan) visited Washington for several days of meetings. Most notably, they met with Vice President Mike Pence, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Destro, and Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
  • Impact on Capitol Hill. Along with country- and case-specific advocacy with Congressional offices, CPJ testified before Congressional committees twice in 2019.

    In May, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon testified at House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the dangers of reporting on human rights. Simon testified alongside Hatice Cengiz, whose fiancé, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered by Saudi officials last year. In July, CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna testified at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on human rights in Cuba.

  • #JusticeforJamal. Following our advocacy in 2018, we continued to push for transparency and accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

    In February, we organized a press conference outside the White House urging the Trump administration comply with the Global Magnitsky Act. Around the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, CPJ co-organized a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, featuring members of Congress and U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard. Days later, CPJ and partners marked the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder with a candlelight vigil outside the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. We were joined by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who delivered stirring remarks, and the vigil drew widespread media coverage.

Despite these successes, the U.S.’ standing as a country where journalists can work in relative safety, and whose government defends global press freedom, remains in peril.

In 2020, CPJ will continue to advocate so that journalists around the world who depend on the U.S. to stand for press freedom know they can, and that journalists here enjoy the full protections of the U.S. Constitution. Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation.

Sincerely,

Michael De Dora

Washington Advocacy Manager

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