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Journalist Imprisonment: A Global Appeal for Freedom on World Press Freedom Day

Journalist Imprisonment

Biden’s statement on World Press Freedom Day: All imprisoned journalists should be released

Washington — The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 320 journalists were imprisoned globally at the end of 2023, including three Americans in Russia and Syria. Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva face espionage and “foreign agent” charges, respectively, with their families and the U.S. State Department calling for their release.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has resulted in the deadliest period for journalists since 1992, highlighting the dangers faced by journalists worldwide. Organizations like Reporters Without Borders emphasize the importance of protecting journalists in war zones and during elections while also celebrating countries that uphold press freedom. The annual World Press Freedom Index ranks Norway and Denmark at the top, underscoring the significance of a free press as a cornerstone of democracy.

Key Concepts

  • 320 journalists were imprisoned globally as of the end of 2023.
  • American journalists Evan Gershkovich, Alsu Kurmasheva, and Austin Theis are among those imprisoned.
  • Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges, denied by him and his employer.
  • Kurmasheva is also in Russia, facing “foreign agent” charges.
  • The U.S. State Department has called for the release of the imprisoned journalists.
  • The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has led to the deadliest period for journalists since 1992.
  • Journalists face risks in war zones and during national elections.
  • Reporters Without Borders ranks Norway and Denmark at the top of the World Press Freedom Index.
  • Media freedom is crucial for upholding democratic values.

US President Joe Biden issued a statement on World Press Freedom Day on Friday (May 3), calling for the release of all journalists imprisoned for their work, including three US journalists.

“Journalism should not be a crime anywhere on earth,” Biden said in a statement. “On World Press Freedom Day, the United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists imprisoned simply for doing their job. We call for the protection of journalists everywhere, including during military operations.”

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According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as of the end of 2023, 320 journalists had been imprisoned globally for their work.

These include three American journalists: Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva, who are imprisoned in Russia, and Austin Theis, who is imprisoned in Syria. Austin Tice).

Gershkovich, a Russia correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, has been imprisoned since March 2023 on espionage charges that he and his employer, as well as the U.S. government, have strongly denied. The U.S. State Department also said he was improperly detained.

“We’re so proud of him. I can’t believe he’s holding on so well. He works very, very, hard to stay positive,” Gershkovich’s sister, Danielle Gershkovich, said Friday at an event in Washington to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Danielle said her family managed to stay in touch with Evan through letters.

“I got a letter from him; it felt like Christmas morning. When I read it, I heard his voice in my head. It felt like I could talk to my brother. It’s me and a lifeline to my parents,” she said at the event at The Washington Post headquarters.

Since Gershkovic was imprisoned, Russian authorities have not publicly revealed any evidence to substantiate the espionage charges against him. Gershkevich is recognized by the Russian Foreign Ministry as working in the country and his pretrial detention will last until at least June.

The journalist, who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, traveled to Russia in May 2023 due to a family emergency. When she tried to leave Russia in June 2023, her passport was confiscated. In October 2023, she was arrested while waiting for her passport to be returned.

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Kurmasheva is accused of failing to register herself as a so-called “foreign agent” and spreading what Moscow considers disinformation about the Russian military. The journalist and her employer deny the charges against her.

Stephen Capus, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said at the event: “She is the mother of two wonderful young women who have had to grow up very quickly over the past six months while she has been in prison. “

In a pre-recorded video, Kurmasheva’s 15-year-old daughter, Bibi, called for her mother’s immediate release.

“My mother, Arsu, has been in jail in Russia for six months because she is a journalist,” she said. “My sister and I are so proud of her and we miss her very, very much. She needs to be released immediately so she can come back to us. Free Arsu.”

Press freedom groups criticized the U.S. State Department for not declaring that Kurmasheva was wrongfully detained and that such a declaration would open up more resources to help secure her release.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an email from the media seeking a comment.

As this year marks World Press Freedom Day, experts say the situation for journalists around the world is worrying.

“Media freedom is under siege,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Friday. “Without facts, we cannot fight misinformation and disinformation. Without accountability, we cannot implement strong policies. Without a free press, we have no freedom. A free press is not a choice; Required.”

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has led to the deadliest period for journalists in particular since the Committee to Protect Journalists began collecting data in 1992. As of Friday, at least 97 journalists had been killed since the war began. The Committee to Protect Journalists said the dead included 92 Palestinians, two Israelis, and three Lebanese.

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“Journalists are civilians, so they need to be protected just like any civilian in a war zone. They should not be targeted,” Jodie Ginsberg, president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said at an event on Friday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has accused Israel of targeting journalists, a charge the Israeli government denies.

About half of the world’s population will vote in national elections in 2024, leaving press freedom experts worried about the safety of journalists and the potential adverse impact on press freedom.

“This year is really going to be an indicator not only of the future of a free press but also of the future of democracy because how we treat our media before an election is a test of what happens to the other freedoms and other democratic rights that we enjoy,” Ginsburg said. A touchstone of how to be treated.”

Discussions about press freedom often focus on the negatives, but Clayton Weimers, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said it is also important to recognize governments that defend press freedom.

“World Press Freedom Day should be a celebration of the values ​​of press freedom,” Weymers said.

Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index on Friday, ranking 180 countries and territories on media freedom. Norway and Denmark top the list this year.

“There is no freedom without a free press,” Weymers said. “This is the basis of all other freedoms.”

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