Call on Leaders in Asia to Release Jailed Journalists Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

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Civil Rights Defenders and 73 media, press freedom, and human rights organisations write to Asian heads of state to call on their respective governments to release all jailed journalists amid the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic.

We urge them to protect the free press and the free flow of information at this crucial time. Journalism must not carry a death sentence.

Joint Statement

To: Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen; President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping; Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi; State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung Sun Suu Kyi; Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan; President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte; and President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong.

We the 74 undersigned media, press freedom, and human rights organizations are writing to call on your respective governments to release all jailed journalists amid the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 30, the Committee to Protect Journalists began a campaign called #FreeThePress, launching a petition and publishing an open letter to world leaders urging the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for their work. Given that a staggering number of these imprisoned journalists are held in jails across the Asian continent, we are reiterating that call to your respective countries at this time of grave public health concern.

According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted on December 1, 2019, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

As of March 31, at least five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam, according to CPJ research. However, at least five more journalists have been arrested since December 1, including Sovann Rithy in Cambodia, Chen Jiaping in China, Gautam Navlakha in India, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in Pakistan, and Frenchiemae Cumpio in the Philippines.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression without interference and the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

According to the World Health Organization, “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.”

For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.

Many of these journalists have been held in detention without trial for lengthy periods and are suffering from ill health exacerbated by underlying health conditions and overcrowded prisons, where they have contracted malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

We urge you to release every jailed journalist in your respective countries and to protect the free press and the free flow of information at this crucial time. Journalism must not carry a death sentence.

Sincerely,

  • Afghan Journalists Safety Committee
  • AGHS Legal Aid Cell
  • Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom
  • Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia
  • Americans for Kashmir
  • Amnesty International India
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Cambodian Center for Independent Media
  • Cambodian Journalists Alliance
  • Centre of Media Persons for Change, Chennai – India
  • CGNet Swara – India
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Coalition for Women in Journalism
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Committee Against Assault on Journalists – India
  • Dhaka Tribune
  • Digital Rights Foundation
  • Federation of Nepali Journalists
  • Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
  • Freedom of Expression Myanmar
  • Free Media Movement
  • Freedom Forum
  • Freedom Network – Pakistan
  • Free Speech Collective – India
  • Hong Kong Free Press
  • Human Rights in China
  • Hyderabad Journalists Federation – India
  • Hyderabad Working Journalists Federation – India
  • Hyderabad Union of Working Journalists – India
  • Impulse Model Press Lab – India
  • Imphal Free Press – India
  • Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam
  • Indian Federation of Working Journalists
  • Indian Journalists Union
  • INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
  • Internet Freedom Foundation – India
  • Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society – India
  • Jansandesh Times – India
  • Journalists Union of Assam
  • Kashmir Working Journalists Association – India
  • Kashmir Times – India
  • Kerala Union of Working Journalists – India
  • Local Press Hong Kong
  • Malaysiakini
  • Media Action Nepal
  • Mumbai Press Club – India
  • Mumbai Patrakar Sangh – India
  • Nai Baat
  • National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
  • National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia
  • New Bloom Magazine
  • New Naratif
  • Network of Women in Media India
  • Overseas Press Club of Cambodia
  • Pakistan Press Foundation
  • Park Center for Independent Media, Ithaca College
  • People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights – India
  • People’s Union for Civil Liberties – India
  • PEN Delhi – India
  • PEN Myanmar
  • Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Press Association – India
  • Radio Free Asia
  • Siasat Daily – India
  • South Asia Free Media Association – Sri Lanka
  • South Asian Journalists Association
  • South Asia Women in Media, Sri Lanka
  • Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
  • Tamil Nadu Women Journalists Association – India
  • Talk Journalism, India
  • Telangana State Union of Working Journalists – India
  • Telangana Urdu Working Journalists Union – India
  • The 88 Project
  • The Irrawaddy
  • The Lede – India
  • The Reporter, Taiwan
  • Weiquanwang

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Authoritarian governments must not use the corona pandemic as an excuse to repress human rights or silence critical voices. We are watching you. We will call out human rights violations and hold you accountable. Keep track of the world with us here.

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