CPJ calls on European External Action Service to press for jailed journalists’ release amid COVID-19

Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
/ Vice-President of the Commission
European External Action Service
9A Rond Point Schuman
1046 Brussels

Sent via email

Dear High Representative,

Amid the unprecedented public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am writing on behalf of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom organization, to urge you to call on certain governments to immediately and unconditionally release journalists who have been imprisoned for their work, and are now also at heightened medical risk.

COVID-19 poses a major threat to the lives of journalists in detention. A prison sentence virtually anywhere can now amount to a death sentence. Recognizing the threat this poses to journalists around the globe, CPJ has launched #FreeThePress, a campaign calling on world leaders to release all jailed journalists immediately and unconditionally.

CPJ’s most recent prison census found at least 250 journalists behind bars globally. The worst jailers included China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt—all of which have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks. The European External Action Service should seize this moment to call on the respective heads of state of these four countries to release all imprisoned journalists as a matter of public health.

In many countries, one of the first victims of the pandemic has been the truth. It has never been more essential that the public have access to information, yet censorship and surveillance efforts are on this rise. In some countries, governments are taking advantage of the situation by introducing emergency measures that undermine the free press and clamp down on freedom of expression.

Some, like Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat, Beninese journalist Ignace Sossou, or Cuban journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones, are being held on trumped-up charges, while others have been targeted with fake news laws, like Esraa Abdel Fattah and Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa in Egypt. Many are jailed for their coverage of conflicts, civil unrest, or for exposing human rights violations, like Aasif Sultan in Kashmir, Azimjon Askarov in Kyrgyzstan, Samuel Wazizi in Cameroon, or Nariman Memedeminov in Crimea. In Venezuela, Darvinson Rojas was arrested this March for reporting on local COVID-19 cases.

At the Committee to Protect Journalists, we believe this moment presents an opportunity for the European External Action Service to exert its full influence to also push for the release of these individuals, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.

I thank you in advance for taking our request into consideration.


Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists