Speak Out For Imprisoned Journalists On World Press Freedom Day

Shi Tao, serving a 10 year sentence in China for writing an email.

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.

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The power of World Press Freedom Day

Signing petition for diamond tradeToday, World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity for people around the world to celebrate the fundamental human right to freedom of expression.  Every day, journalists around the world face the threat of intimidation, censorship, imprisonment and violence, including torture, for their efforts to report on human rights violations.

We are shining a light on 8 specific cases in places including China, Zimbabwe, Russia and Egypt where rights to free speech and expression have been harshly denied.

It was during this same time last year when we witnessed the release of American journalist Roxana Saberi. She was arrested in Iran and initially sentenced to eight years in prison on trumped-up charges of espionage. But because we sounded the alarm and refused to let free speech be ignored, justice was served.

Commemorate World Press Freedom Day by sending an email on behalf of a journalist or free speech advocate who needs your support!

License Free Dialogue in Zimbabwe!

Radio Dialogue Zimbabwe road show

Radio Dialogue Zimbabwe road show

On World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty USA is calling attention to fearless journalists fighting every day to tell the stories that matter and remind us how fragile freedom of expression remains. Repression of journalists, including imprisonment, violence and even death, continues frequently in many places around the world. In Zimbabwe, media repression opened significantly in the past year, with the government allowing foreign reporters to return to the country. But the government continues to lock down domestic reporting.

The only daily newspapers, radio and TV stations in Zimbabwe are state run. The Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed by Zimbabwe’s three main political parties in September 2008, provided for “the immediate processing of all applications for registration in terms of the Broadcasting Services Act”. Despite this, repressive legislation restricting the ability of the independent media to operate remains in place. More than a year since it was created, the new government has failed to honour its commitment to issue licences.

Radio Dialogue is a non-profit community radio station consistently denied a licence by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) since it’s foundation in 2001. The station aspires to broadcast to the community of Bulawayo and its surrounding areas, engaging in discussions of political, social, cultural and economic issues affecting the community. Their slogan ‘Giving You a Voice’ expresses their aim to enable all sections of the community to engage as a means of promoting tolerance, understanding and community relations.

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Obama salutes Tissainayagam

In his May 1 statement in honor of World Press Freedom Day, President Obama singled out for recognition a few journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work:

In every corner of the globe, there are journalists in jail or being actively harassed:  from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, Burma to Uzbekistan, Cuba to Eritrea.  Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J.S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka, or Shi Tao and Hu Jia in China.

Tissainayagam remains in prison today, solely for the “crime”  of being a journalist.  Please write to the Sri Lankan government today and ask that he be released immediately and all charges against him dropped.

Sri Lanka: a question of credibility

If we’re to believe the Sri Lankan military, they’ve killed no civilians during their offensive against the opposition Tamil Tigers in recent months.  They claim that the security forces have only killed Tiger fighters.  However, the military itself admitted that it’s become harder to distinguish between civilians and the Tigers, since the Tigers have, according to the military, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes.  AI has reported that the military has used heavy artillery in indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties.  The Sri Lankan government doesn’t help its credibility in making these kinds of claims.

The Tigers can’t exactly lay claim to great credibility either, though.  They announced a unilateral ceasefire a week ago but last Thursday, said that their gunboats had attacked the Sri Lankan navy.  What happened to their ceasefire?  The Tigers yesterday said today that they were ready to engage in a process to bring about a ceasefire; if that happened, would the Tigers observe it anymore than the one they announced themselves?

I’m grateful that the Sri Lankan military hasn’t yet launched an all-out offensive to reconquer the remaining Tiger-held territory, since I can’t see how they could do that without causing massive casualties among the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped by the Tigers in the war zone.  There are a number of steps each side should take immediately, if we’re to avoid these casualties.  The steps are laid out in an urgent action appeal issued by AI last Friday.  Please read that appeal to see what AI is calling for from both sides.  Please also consider writing to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE as the appeal requests.

One final note:  today is World Press Freedom Day and J.S. Tissainayagam remains unjustly imprisoned in a Sri Lankan prison simply for his journalistic activities.  Please visit the AIUSA website and write to the Sri Lankan government on his behalf.  He should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Journalists Risking their Lives

This Sunday, May 3rd, is World Press Freedom Day and you can help push back against governments worldwide who violate fundamental rights to free speech and expression.  Some of the journalists currently languishing in detention include:

  • Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, who was sentenced last week to eight years in prison on charges of espionage after a flawed trial.
  • Gambian journalist Ebrima Manneh who continues to be detained despite a court’s ruling in June 2008 that his rights had been violated by the Gambian government and should be released.
  • Sri Lankan writer J.S. Tissainayagam who was imprisoned in 2008 for writing two articles that criticized the government’s military offensive against the opposition group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Here in the U.S. we often take for granted our ability to speak out against the policies of our government.  The type of content on this blog alone would surely be censored in some countries and could even land writers in prison.  We hope you’ll join us this weekend in taking action to protect journalists worldwide!