Sending an e-mail seems harmless enough, but Shi Tao has been in prison for it for over six years. His crime: working as a journalist and exposing censorship.
In that e-mail, Shi Tao commented on Chinese authorities’ directive to downplay the 15th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists. When a journalist speaks out for human rights and the lives of others in China he risks his own — even in a digital world of e-mail and the web.
And how appropriate that today, World Press Freedom Day, focuses on media freedom in the digital age. World Press Freedom Day was established by the United Nations as a tribute to journalists, celebrating the very rights that Shi Tao cannot enjoy: the fundamental human right to freedom of expression. All over the world, journalists constantly face imprisonment, violence, intimidation, detainment and even torture for reporting on human rights violations.
Like Shi Tao, J.S. Tissainayagam (also known as “Tissa”) faced a similar punishment for his journalism. For criticizing the Sri Lankan government in his writing, Tissa was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. Due to the work of Amnesty International and many concerned citizens around the world, Tissa was pardoned last year on World Press Freedom Day.
But the struggle for press freedom did not end in Sri Lanka. Prageeth Eknaligoda, a journalist and political analyst for the website Lanka-e-News went missing more than 15 months ago. One week before his disappearance, Eknaligoda had just completed a comparative analysis for the presidential election, coming out in favor of the opposition candidate.
On this World Press Freedom Day, let’s raise our voice for the voiceless and speak out for Shi Tao and Prageeth Eknaligoda. Mention their names on your blog, Facebook and Twitter to bring attention to press freedom and celebrate the new media of the 21st century.