By: Marisa Félix / GICJ

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Introduction

In 2013, the United Nations decided to dedicate November second to journalists, namely as a way of drawing attention to any kind of crimes committed against them while performing their duties. This date was chosen in memory of two French journalists from “Radio France Internationale”, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were brutally murdered in Mali on November 2nd, 2013.

Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were interviewing one of the rebellion leaders in the region when they were kidnapped by unknown assailants. They were later found dead, 12 km apart with their dead bodies riddled with bullets[1]. Even though an investigation was launched, there were many inconsistencies during the process and the perpetrators are still not held accountable or even judged. Today, their families are still begging for justice to be served.

In 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the second of November as the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists” under Resolution A/RES/68/163. This resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers and urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent these actions and ensure accountability for those crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Crimes Against Journalists and Media Workers

In fact, not every part of the world is welcoming of freedom of expression, especially for journalistic purposes. In order to restrict free press and its nationwide or international dissemination, some governments murder journalists and media workers.

Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2020

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists' Special Report[2], countries can be classified as more or less repressive of the freedom of expression of journalists and other media professionals. Generally, repressive countries that advocate censorship of freedom of expression use a double path of repression. They not only use traditional means of censorship, such as intimidation and torture, but also use modern censorship linked to the digital world, such as not allowing certain social networks in the country that promote the distribution of information and ideas.

This report is based on the data and information obtained during the investigation and research of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It addresses tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to surveillance of journalists and restrictions on internet and social media access. It states that the country with the greatest repression and censorship of freedom of expression is Eritrea.

The next countries with most repression and censorship are the following:

  1. North Korea
  2. Turkmenistan
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. China
  5. Vietnam
  6. Iran
  7. Equatorial Guinea
  8. Belarus
  9. Cuba

However, there are other indirect ways of controlling a country's media and journalists and consequently freedom of expression of the whole civil society. Several of these listed countries have been increasingly betting on less traditional ways of violence and censorship. This brings them other benefits and allows the international community not to interfere in such a constant or direct way, often not even knowing that this situation happens.These are the countries that most disrespect and fail to comply with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to seek and receive news and express opinions[3]. In fact, these ten countries have continuously invested in various and different ways to restrict independent media and intimidate any journalists associated with them, silencing them through imprisonment, torture, digital and physical surveillance and other forms of harassment and violence.

These indirect forms of control are first obtained by the state of the country's independent media, buying them and then controlling which news and ideas should be passed on to the public. Generally, the government only approves news and ideas that are to its liking and those which do not interfere with its already existing control of the civil society. This means that all news available agrees with the measures imposed by the government and the current situation in the country. This often means that society does not even realize what is negative in the country and the fact that they are so inserted in this form of communication that they do not even realize that they are being indirectly controlled.

Another form of media and civil society control goes through the digital world, namely through the prohibition of social networks and other means of communication considered modern and distributed throughout the developing and developed world. These cannot be used and therefore whilst social media and networks are created for the specific context, where there is clearly a control of which information can circulate. This does not allow society to know the international and external situation and journalists to share this same information and other internal data because of surveillance in these media. 

Other countries that prefer more traditional means simply choose to practice more violent and direct forms of censorship and repression, often including jailing and harassing journalists and their families. Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, and Iran are especially adept at practicing these brands of censorship.

According to the UN, in the past 12 years more than 1,000 journalists have been killed because of reporting news or any information to the public. And in more than half of the cases, about nine out of ten, the killers go unpunished. This constant impunity leads these crimes to continue to be perpetuated and gradually increase, consequently degrading not only the country's legal and judicial system but also of the worsening of the conflict.

In 2020, we still must fight for journalists to be protected and to be able to execute their work properly. Unfortunately, journalism can still be a high-risk profession depending on where it is undertaken. Globally in 2019, 49 journalists were killed according to Statista[4], 389 were arrested and 57 were held hostage.

However, despite the existence of this statistic, there are still many cases of violence against journalists and media workers that are not even reported to the authorities. Besides the deaths, there are also other types of violence and repression exercised on a daily basis against journalists, such as torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation, etc., including sexual attacks for the case of women specifically. 

All of these types of violence and crimes against journalists and media workers are widespread and unfortunately occur in all continents of the world. However, some of them have more expression in some parts of the world then others, for example, enforced disappearances are more common in the middle east and repression by threats and intimidation is more frequent in Europe. Either way, all types of violence must be condemned.

GICJ Position

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) stands with all fallen journalists or those who are threatened in any form in their mission to tell the truth, report abuses and corruption or work against the established order. This international day is extremely important not only to remind all the states and civil society about the violence and repression against journalists in their daily work, but also about the significance to fight against impunity for the crimes committed against them.

GICJ condemns all acts of violence and repression against journalists and media workers, believing that their daily work is extremely significant to the civil society. Their work contributes to all of us, especially for the global spread of many truths that are essential, including the reporting of human rights violations, politics, economic situation, among others.

GICJ reminds all states and the civil society of the importance of freedom of speech and bringing justice to all journalists and media workers that suffered any form of violence, repression and intimidation around the world for trying to achieve that freedom. It is imperative to achieve justice for them and to put an end to impunity.

GICJ is committed to the fight against impunity and urges all states and society to enable a safe environment for journalists all over the world, and therefore urges the development of more explicit legislation to address the various forms of crimes to silence journalists and all media workers. This must include more efficient measures to bring the perpetrators to justice.

[1] https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-enquete-de-secrets-d-info/l-enquete-de-secrets-d-info-06-septembre-2019

[2] The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent and non-profit organization that promotes a press freedom worldwide, defending all journalists and reporting not only all crimes practiced against them, but also defend the right to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.

[3] https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/266229/number-of-journalists-killed-since-1995/

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