Every year since 1993, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom. It was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. The day serves “as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics”, according to UNESCO. The World Press Freedom Day also serves as a day of remembrance for the journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
No less than 211 journalists were imprisoned last year, and 14 were killed this year so far (read more), adding to those 70 killed in 2013, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last year was also the second worst year on record after 2012, based on imprisoned journalists, with Turkey, Iran, and China accounting for more than half of all journalists imprisoned around the world.
The most recent death of a journalist in mission was recorded in Khost, Afghanistan, on April 4th, this year. Anja Niedringhaus, 48, was a German photographer for The Associated Press, and on the day she was killed, she was travelling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots from the center of Khost city to the outskirts, in Tani district, together with Kathy Gannon, AP special correspondent for the region, a translator and another AP freelance photographer. Niedringhaus was shot dead by a police officer who walked up to the four people’s car and said “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”).
The deadly shooting happened the day before nationwide elections for a president and provincial councils, which the Taliban had vowed to disrupt, according to reports, cited by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The convoy was protected by Afghan security force, and after opening fire on the car, the officer surrendered to other police and was arrested.
Less than a month prior to this attack, the British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner, 51, who was a reporter for Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s national public broadcaster, was shot dead in Kabul’s diplomatic district, near the popular Lebanese restaurant targeted by a suicide bombing in December, last year. At the time of the shooting, Horner was interviewing local security guards and was looking for a survivor of the attack on the Lebanese restaurant, the report said, according to CPJ.
Al Jazeera’ staff denied bail on Press Freedom Day
Al Jazeera English journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed have been held in jail in Egypt for already almost 130 days. “A fourth Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shami, has been held in Egypt for more than six months and has been on hunger strike since January 23. His detention was extended for other 45 days on March 13”, according to the media network. They are not the first Al Jazeera journalists to be held in Egypt. Mohamed Badr, was arrested on July 15, last year, but released on February 5, when he was acquitted of a series of charges “including being involved in the protests in Cairo’s Ramses Square.”
Al Jazeera’s #FreeAJstaff campaign gained a lot of popularity not only among citizens, but also governments, international organizations, and other media outlets. According to Al Jazeera, more than 40,000 people have been actively involved in the campaign for the release of the journalists, and events were held in more than 30 countries and in every continent.
Despite all the international efforts to free the journalists, the Egyptian judge rejected for the second time their bail request and adjourned Al Jazeera staff trial to May 15. The hearing took place yesterday, on the World Press Freedom Day. The journalists stand accused of fabricating reports which “portend the downfall of the state” in order to further the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has designated a “terrorist organization”.
During this fifth session of their trial, the Al Jazeera staff trial were supposed to see the evidence agaist them which supposed to prove they were guilty of “smearing Egypt’s reputation, doctoring footage, and helping terrorists”. However, the videos included “footage of a trotting horse, taken from Sky News Arabia; another was a press conference in Nairobi; a third was a BBC documentary about Somali bandits”, according to Al Jazeera reports.
The authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage often use allegations such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism”, CPJ reports show. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all. “For every journalist imprisoned there are dozens silenced,” said Sherif Mansour, the Middle East director of CPJ. “Pretrial detention is a punishment that the government uses to silence the journalist and because of this policy, a lot of journalists question whether they should cover events. Many international journalists have left and more organisations are thinking of this when they send their correspondents to the region,” he added, according to Al Jazeera.
On World Press Freedom Day, the Committee to Protect Journalists has released a list of 10 emblematic cases of journalists imprisoned by authorities in retaliation for their work, while calling on authorities “to release these journalists, as well as all others being held in relation to their work.” (read more)
Uzbek editor Muhammad Bekjanov has been in jail for already 15 years, marking one of the longest sentences for any journalist worldwide. At the same time, Iranian journalist Siamak Ghaderi who was imprisoned in 2010 has been beaten and whipped in custody, while Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai is serving a 12-year jail term, according to CPJ.