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London, 15 January 2018 – A delegation of global press freedom groups will undertake an unprecedented mission to the United States, reflecting concerns about threats to journalists and heightened anti-press rhetoric. The mission will coincide with the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration and will leverage the first year’s findings of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which will be released at an event at the Newseum, Washington D.C.
From January 15 to 17, leaders of six organisations — Article 19, CPJ, Index on Censorship, IFEX, and International Press Institute — will conduct a fact-finding visit to Houston, Texas, and the Missouri cities of Columbia and St. Louis. They will then travel to Washington for the Assessment of Press Freedom event at the Newseum on Wednesday, January 17, at 7:00 p.m. EST, and meetings with high-level policymakers on January 18 and 19.
The Press Freedom Tracker website collects data on the arrests of journalists, the seizure of their equipment, physical attacks, border stops, and other incidents.
Index on Censorship and Article 19 routinely participate in missions to countries of concern for press freedom. Recently this has included trips to Ukraine and Turkey. In 2016, Index produced a report “It’s Not Just Trump,” which highlighted the varying threats to media freedom there.
The partner organisations hope the mission will help bring attention to the deterioration of press freedom in the U.S., its impact on media freedom globally, and show solidarity with the journalist community.
Note to Editors:
Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship is a London-based non-profit organisation that publishes work by censored writers and artists and campaigns against censorship worldwide. Since its founding in 1972, Index on Censorship has published some of the greatest names in literature in its award-winning quarterly magazine, including Samuel Beckett, Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut. It also has published some of the world’s best campaigning writers from Vaclav Havel to Elif Shafik.
Article 19 is a human rights organisation which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide.
Please contact Sean Gallagher at Index on Censorship on [email protected] or ARTICLE 19’s press team on [email protected] for further information or to arrange interviews with mission participants.
Please contact [email protected] to to obtain press credentials for the January 17 Newseum event, which will be livestreamed at 7:00 p.m. EST at www.newseum.org/event.
We condemn the decision of UK border officials to confiscate the passport of Syrian journalist, Zaina Erhaim, at the request of Syrian authorities. We urge the British government to protect the freedom of the press by refusing to let foreign governments use manipulation of the passport system to punish journalists.
The Syria coordinator for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Ms Erhaim has been recognised by a number of organisations internationally – including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in 2015 – for her work training citizen journalists to report on the conflict within Aleppo.
Ms Erhaim was invited to the UK in her capacity as winner of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards for journalism to speak about her experiences alongside veteran journalist Kate Adie.
When Ms Erhaim arrived in the UK on Thursday 22 September for the event she was detained by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and questioned for an hour before UKBA confiscated her passport. Erhaim was told that the passport had been reported by the Syrian authorities as stolen and therefore UKBA was compelled to retain it and return it to the Syrian government.
Ms Erhaim had her old passport, which remains valid but is effectively unusable because the pages are filled, and was able to enter the UK for the debate. Further travel may be impossible, however, as Ms Erhaim no longer has a passport with which to apply for a new visa to enter Europe.
When Ms Erhaim challenged this decision, she was told to seek consular advice from the Syrian government in Damascus.
“It seems quite astonishing that the UK would accede to a request from a government whom it has only this week accused of being complicit in war crimes – especially when it is clear that the Syrian government is using tools, such as passport cancellations, to harass those who oppose or expose its behaviour,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said.
Anthony Borden, IWPR executive director and managing director, said: “Zaina Ehraim is internationally recognized as one of the most courageous and professional independent voices from Syria – working at great personal risk to support media and civic society inside the country to inform the world about this terrible conflict and keep hope alive for some kind of positive future.”
“The idea that the British government – which has directly supported our work in Syria – should accede to the demands of the Syrian authorities to seize her passport is profoundly offensive to any democratic thinking, directly undermines the effort to build civic options inside Syria, and sends precisely the wrong message to the criminal regime in Damascus,” he added.
Four organisations – the Council for Arab-British Understanding, Index on Censorship, IWPR, and RSF – have raised the matter with the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“We are appalled that the UK authorities have allowed our system to be manipulated in this way. British law is meant to protect freedom of expression, not to be used to harass critical journalists at the urging of repressive regimes. We call on the Home Office to take immediate steps to assist Erhaim and issue a public statement in her support,” said Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director.
Chris Doyle, Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding said: “The precedent set by seizing Erhaim’s passport and the message it sends to oppressive governments around the world is alarming. In theory, any vicious regime could demand the return of a passport from any government merely by fraudulently claiming that the passport is stolen.”
The Frontline Club is also supporting a campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
If you would like to write a letter in support of Zaina Erhaim, address your correspondence to:
Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
Press contact: Jodie Ginsberg, [email protected]
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its ninth annual World Press Freedom Index today, with a mixed bag of what secretary-general Jean François Julliard calls “welcome surprises” and “sombre realities”.
Six countries, all in Europe, share the top spot this year — Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland — described as the “engines of press freedom”. But over half of the European Union’s member states lie outside the top 20, with some significantly lower entries, such as Romania in 52nd place and Greece and Bulgaria tied at 70th. The report expresses grave concerns that the EU will lose its status as world leader on human rights issues if so many of its members continue to fall down the rankings.
The edges of Europe fared particularly badly this year; Ukraine (131st) and Turkey (138th) have fallen to “historically low” rankings, and despite a rise of 13 places, Russia remains in the worst 25 per cent of countries at 140th. It ranks lower than Zimbabwe, which continues to make steady — albeit fragile — progress, rising to 123rd.
At the very bottom of the table lie Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan, as they have done since the index first began in 2002. Along with Yemen, China, Sudan, Syria, Burma and Iran, they makes up the group of worst offenders, characterised by “persecution of the media” and a “complete lack of news and information”. RSF says it is getting harder and harder to distinguish between these lowest ten countries, who continue to deteriorate. There are particular fears about the situation for journalists in Burma ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.
Another country creating cause for concern in the run-up to elections is Azerbaijan, falling six places to 152nd. Index on Censorship recently joined other organisations in a visit to Baku to assess the health of the country’s media. You can read about their findings in a joint mission report, ‘Free Expression under Attack: Azerbaijan’s Deteriorating Media Environment’, launching this Thursday, 28 October, 6.30 pm, at the Free Word Centre. Belarus, another country on which Index is campaigning, languishes at 154th.
It is worth noting, though, that relative press freedom rankings can only tell so much. Cuba, for example, has risen out of the bottom 20 countries for the first time, partly thanks to its release of 14 journalists and 22 activists this summer, but journalists still face censorship and repression “on a daily basis”. Similarly, countries such as South Korea and Gabon have climbed more than 20 places, only to return to the position they held before a particularly bad 2009. It seems, then, that the struggle for press freedom across the world must continue to be a “battle of vigilance”.
Azerbaijani bloggers, Adnan Hadji Zadeh and Emin Mili, have lost their appeal for release and are being detained for two months pending trial on hooliganism charges. Media rights group, Reporters sans Frontieres say the charges are without grounds and that the bloggers have been assaulted. Read more here