One Free Press Coalition Spotlights Journalists Under Attack – August 2020

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its eighth monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice.

During the pandemic, the One Free Press Coalition has also called for the worldwide release of journalists in detention. Last month, David Romero Ellner died from complications related to Covid-19 while serving a prison sentence in Honduras.

Here’s August’s list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Austin Tice (Syria)
Eight years without updates regarding American reporter who disappeared in Syria.

This month marks eight years since freelance American photojournalist Austin Tice went missing while reporting on the civil war in Syria. The then-31-year-old had contributed to The Washington Post, McClatchy publications, and Al-Jazeera English. Tice’s family believes he is still alive, and the U.S. State Department is also operating under the assumption that Tice is still alive. The F.B.I. has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his return.

2. Maria Ressa (Philippines)
Editor on trial exemplifies Filipino government’s silencing of independent media.

US-Filipino dual citizen Maria Ressa returned to court on July 30 for a second cyber libel case, after a June 15 criminal conviction stemming from an article published in 2012. Her privately owned news website, Rappler, had reported about a local businessman’s alleged ties to a former judge. Ressa and her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. were each ordered to pay $7,950 and serve at most six years in jail; all of that is pending appeal. In July, more than 70 organizations launched a campaign and petition supporting independent media under attack in the Philippines.

3. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)
Medical neglect caused death of journalist serving life sentence.

Award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov died in prison at age 69 in July. Family members had long pled for his release citing deteriorating health, including fever and inability to walk in his final weeks, though authorities refused to administer a Covid-19 test. The human rights reporter had served 10 years of a life sentence, which was repeatedly appealed and upheld, for trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. He was the country’s only imprisoned journalist and the first killed since 2007.

4. Roohollah Zam (Iran)
Journalist planning to appeal death sentence.

Amad News manager and activist Roohallah Zam was dealt a death sentence on June 30. He had been working for the popular anti-government news channel on the messaging app Telegram when intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested him last October. They brought 17 charges including espionage, working against the Islamic Republic with governments of Israel, the U.S. and France and spreading corruption which is punishable by execution. His lawyer says they plan to appeal.

5. Agnès Ndirubusa and the team at Iwacu (Burundi)
Court denies appeal for four journalists serving 2.5 years.

In June, Burundi courts rejected an appeal in the case of Agnès Ndirubusa, head of Iwacu’s political desk, and colleagues Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi. The four were arrested in October while covering clashes in the Bubanza Province for one of the country’s last independent outlets. The court convicted them in January of attempting to undermine state security, fined them each $530 and sentenced them to 2.5 years in prison.

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