The Torch is a weekly newsletter from the Committee to Protect Journalists that brings you the latest press freedom and journalist safety news from around the world. Subscribe here.
As 2023 begins to wind down, journalists around the world continue to face multilayered challenges to do their jobs. Yet some press freedom developments inspire us, strengthen us, and make us grateful. Here is a short list:
CPJ is grateful to the journalists covering the Israel-Gaza war who continue to bring us vital news despite incessant shelling, arrests, cyberattacks, harassment, and threats. We are especially indebted and pay tribute to press freedom defender Bilal Jadallah who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Jadallah provided indispensable research for CPJ’s May 2023 report “Deadly Pattern,” which documented a complete lack of accountability in Israeli military killings of journalists over 22 years.
Long overdue justice in journalist murder cases: The 1988 murder of Peruvian journalist Hugo Bustíos — a case CPJ and partners brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — ended with the conviction of former presidential candidate Daniel Urresti in a Peruvian court this year, 35 years after the journalist’s killing. ⚖️ And in January, Turkey convicted 10 people connected to the 2022 murder of journalist Güngör Arslan, including the gunman who killed him.
Journalists acquitted of charges in retaliation for their work: In rulings in January and September, Filipino journalist and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa and her news outlet Rappler were acquitted on tax evasion charges leveled against them by the regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte. ⚖️ Montenegro investigative journalist Jovo Martinović’s eight-year legal battle also ended this year with a full acquittal by the Montenegro Supreme Court in July.
Journalists released from unjust custody: French journalist Olivier Dubois was released after nearly two years of captivity in Mali, after being abducted by a militant group in 2021. “It’s amazing for me to be here, to be free,” said Dubois. 🏆 And 2023 International Press Freedom Award honoree Nika Gvaramia was pardoned and released from prison in June, less than two weeks after CPJ traveled to Georgia to advocate for his release. We were grateful to be able to present Gvaramia his award in person.
Stopping spyware matters: In March, CPJ welcomed President Biden’s executive order restricting the U.S. government’s use of commercial spyware tools. The order prohibits executive departments and agencies from using the spyware if they determine it could pose significant counterintelligence or security risks to the U.S. government or be used improperly by foreign agents. 📲CPJ previously called on governments around the world to curb the abuse of commercial spyware and will continue to press those who have made commitments.
Camera of killed journalist returned to family: More than 15 years after Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai was killed in Myanmar, the camera he held at the time of his death has finally been returned to his family. 📷 At the press conference commemorating the return of the camera, which he was using to film the 2007 Saffron Revolution political protests, the last footage from the camera was made available.
Defiance in the face of censorship: Kansas newspaper Marion County Record defiantly continued working despite an intrusive August police raid, which CPJ and other groups argued may have violated federal law. Police seized computers and phones and the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, passed away following the raid, but the Record persisted in publishing without a break. 🔎 The Record and other news outlets continued investigations into local and state law enforcement in the raid. CPJ is inspired by The Record’s refusal to be silenced, and the national outpouring of solidarity for the newspaper.
Increasing emergency support to journalists at risk: Estonia — with whom CPJ has been working closely on the issue — announced it would provide emergency visas and limited residency permits to journalists at risk. ⭐️ And this year, Afghan journalists and their families, many of whom have been waiting in limbo for two years, have been granted asylum in safe countries.
Support of partner organizations and advocates like you: CPJ is grateful for those who stand with us and uplift our work as journalists worldwide have confronted escalating threats and challenges this year. With your help, CPJ has expanded our direct assistance to journalists. We have grown our exile support by 227% since 2020, as major crises from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan to Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine have forced journalists into exile. 🌏 Last year, CPJ provided financial and non-financial assistance to 548 journalists from 50 countries.
If you have not yet supported our mission this year, we hope you’ll lend us a hand to defend press freedom.
- More than 50 journalists killed in the Israel-Gaza war; reporters face attacks, arrests, threats, censorship
- Al-Mayadeen TV reporter and videographer killed by Israeli strike in south Lebanon
- Russian journalists Aleksandr Dorogov and Yan Katelevskiy sentenced to lengthy prison terms
- Azerbaijan police arrest Abzas Media director Ulvi Hasanli, raid outlet; Hasanli and Sevinj Vagifgizi detained for 4 months
- Killer of journalist Hrant Dink freed in Turkey amid widespread criticism
- Senegalese journalist Pape Sané detained on false news accusations
- Togolese journalists Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou jailed following minister’s complaint
- Exiled Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan decries Weekly Blitz smear campaign
We are grateful for the 2023 International Press Freedom Award honorees and what they represent — the struggle, the perseverance, and the courage it takes to keep people across the globe informed:
- Togolese journalist Ferdinand Ayité, one of his country’s most targeted journalists in recent years, said in his acceptance speech, “I would…like to send a message of solidarity to all those independent journalists in Togo, who work in fairly difficult conditions. My thoughts are at this moment with our two colleagues Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou, who are as we speak in detention.”
- Mexican journalist Maria Teresa Montaño, one of the first reporters to actively investigate corruption, transparency, and accountability in the State of Mexico, said in her acceptance speech, “Journalism must be on the side of the people, as a social service that must contribute to democracy and the people. I cannot understand journalism any other way.”
- Georgian journalist Nika Gvaramia, founder of independent broadcaster Mtavari Arkhi, who was imprisoned before receiving a presidential pardon in June 2023. In his speech, he said, “I steadfastly refuse to choose between my homeland and between my freedom, opting for both – my homeland and my freedom, for both together.”
- Indian journalist Shahina K.K., a veteran Indian journalist who has shed light on issues such as gender, human rights, and marginalized communities. In her acceptance speech, she described how “journalism has always been my primary passion, driven by a deep desire to understand how politics and power impact people’s lives.”
CPJ also presented the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award – given annually to an individual who has shown extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom – to outgoing Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen.
We were also able to honor 2022 IPFA honoree Niyaz Abdullah, in person, after she was unable to travel to the event in 2022. “With the retreat of any journalist under threat, many truths are lost, and the voices of the oppressed and marginalized people are not heard,” said Abdullah in her acceptance speech.
🎥 Watch all the speeches and videos from the awards ceremony here.
What we are reading (and watching)
- 20 days in Mariupol — Mstyslav Chernov, PBS Frontline and The Associated Press
- CARMEN ARISTEGUI: A target of gendered disinformation, censorship & surveillance in a climate of impunity — Julie Posetti, Diana Maynard, Irina Miranda, and Nabeelah Shabbir, International Center for Journalists
- Israel’s war on journalists — Jonathan Shamir, Jewish Currents
- New tool tracks disinformation laws globally — Inaara Gangji, International Journalists’ Network
- Journalists in Gaza deserve protection — not death — Rummana Hussain, Chicago Sun-Times
Editors’ note: This newsletter has been corrected in the fifth paragraph to reflect that Olivier Dubois was released from captivity by a militant group; he was not serving a prison sentence.
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