The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today says an end to the legal persecution of journalists is an essential step towards providing human rights protection around the world.
The IFJ, which is the world’s largest journalists’ group, says that governments who use criminal defamation and other legal restrictions to silence critical reporting undermine the role of media in exposing violations of rights across society
In a statement marking United Nations International Human Rights Day, the IFJ has called for a new global campaign to free the press from restrictive laws.
“Freedom of expression is a basic human right,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “Without it we cannot hope to defend or promote the rights of people set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we dramatically reduce opportunities to expose violation of those rights.”
The IFJ is calling on governments to end prosecution of journalists to silence investigative reporting. “Press freedom is under attack in many countries and journalists find themselves in the dock often on trumped up charges accused of defamation or endangering national security or undermining government and the authorities. Whenever such an attack takes place, everyone suffers. When access to information is blocked and journalists are muzzled the public loses its ‘right to know,’ says the IFJ.
The IFJ says that countries led by authoritarian regimes are the chief culprits, but the Federation warns that many of the recent attacks are coming in countries that are supposed to be the models of democracy.
“In Europe and the United States we have seen numerous court cases where the government has prosecuted journalists in an effort to find out their confidential sources or simply to silence their reporting,” said the IFJ.
In a case last week in France, Le Monde reporter Guillaume Dasquié was accused of “compromising national defence intelligence” over an article published on April 17th where he revealed classified reports showing that French intelligence services knew of some Al Qaeda plans, including a potential plot to highjack an airplane. Dasquié has refused to name the person who gave him the information.
The European Court of Human Rights recently condemned the Belgian state for acting illegally for raiding a journalist’s home and office three years ago following a complaint by the European Union that he was bribing officials for access to secret documents. No evidence was found to justify the complaints and the IFJ has asked searching questions over the affair.
The United States military has finally allowed Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein and his lawyers to see some of the evidence against him after holding him for almost 20 months without charges. An Iraqi magistrate will decide whether Hussein will stand trial before a three-judge panel. Hussein’s attorneys are still being denied copies of the evidence or time alone with the photographer, which the IFJ fears will make mounting his defence a difficult and unfair task.
In other regions of the world attacks on the press are common in countries whose human rights records are already under scrutiny. The IFJ highlighted a number of recent cases:
• In Azerbaijan, which has one of the highest rates of jailing journalists in the world, where 10 journalists are in jail for a variety of charges stemming from critical reporting on the government.
• In Tunisia, where journalist Slim Boukhdir was sentenced to a year in jail after a fracas involving police following months of harassment over his journalism critical of the government.
• In Pakistan, where authorities have initiated legal action against Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and its subsidiary union, the Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) for displaying placards and distributing pamphlets during a protest on November 14 against anti-media rules imposed by President Pervez Musharraf.
• In Isreal where the authorities have announced plans to prosecute three journalists for visiting Lebanon and Syria in the course of their work.
• In Nigeria where four media workers are being held, two on defamation charges after they criticised the Minister of Economy and Finance and two others accused of criminal offences following their coverage of the Tuareg rebellion in the country.
• In Venezuela where voters narrowly defeated a referendum that would have, among other changes to the constitution, given President Hugo Chavez the power to declare an indefinite state of emergency and suspend press freedom.
“Cases like this reveal a pattern of routine abuse of journalists’ rights around the world,” White said. “It’s time for an end to this. We cannot hope to make human rights protection truly universal without an end to judicial intimidation of journalism and attacks on press freedom.”
For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide