Secretary-General António Guterres
New York, NY 10017
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
In May, the #FreeThePress campaign, a group of 193 press freedom and human rights organizations and more than 11,333 concerned citizens, wrote to you urging you to use the power of your office to secure the freedom of the hundreds of journalists jailed globally whose lives were at risk due to the spread of COVID-19.
In light of the recent deaths of journalists in custody, we implore you to renew your efforts and use the full power of your office to renew that call, loudly and clearly.
Since our last time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has spread to prisons around the world, worsening the conditions of already constrained detention centers, plagued by chronic overcrowding and poor healthcare services. Authorities in many countries are either unable or unwilling to implement adequate safety measures, including COVID-19 testing or social distancing, to stem the spread of this potentially fatal virus. At least two journalists have died as a result.
In Egypt, Mohamed Monir, a veteran journalist and freelance columnist, died on July 13 after contracting COVID-19 in pretrial detention. Monir was in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison where more than a dozen journalists are currently detained. For the many journalists in pretrial detention in Egypt, the threat of contracting COVID-19 is effectively like receiving a death sentence – without even getting a trial.
Honduran journalist David Romero Ellner died on July 18 of respiratory failure after contracting COVID whilst imprisoned at the Támara National Penitentiary. He had been serving a 10-year prison sentence on defamation charges, since March 2019, because of his work on corruption.
In Kyrgyzstan, authorities failed to effectively investigate the health deterioration that led to the death of Azimjon Askarov on July 25. The journalist, who had spent over a decade behind bars, was suspected by his family to have caught COVID-19. Prior to his death, the authorities refused to administer a test to Askarov, who had been sick with a fever for weeks.
This pandemic is not slowing down, and if more is not done at this critical juncture, more imprisoned journalists in unsafe conditions will surely pay the price.
We once again call on you to use all political and diplomatic means available to you to secure the release of imprisoned journalists, and demand that any journalists facing charges who have not been convicted await trial from the safety of their homes rather than the death trap of a prison cell.