IPI congress mounts pressure on oppressive governments

The International Press Institute (IPI) 66th Annual General Assembly has renewed its international pressure on African countries that are showing zero tolerance for press freedom and freedom of expression.

And the just ended 2017 IPI World Congress held in Hamburg, petitioned the German government and the European union to ascertain themselves as defenders of human rights across the world and to help press for the release of incarcerated journalists.

The IPI adopted a resolution to renew pressure on Egypt’s government to free imprisoned journalists and to respect constitutional guarantees of free expression and press freedom.

“Egypt traditionally has not enjoyed a high degree of media freedom, but the situation worsened markedly in the wake of the 2013 coup d’état that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi and brought current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power. Despite constitutional protections for freedoms of opinion and expression, and for media freedom, that Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved in 2014, journalists face severe government repression, including the threat of arbitrary arrest and detention, and systematic deprivation of their rights, including the right to due process,” the IPI resolution read.

“One emblematic case is that of Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein who has spent 152 days behind bars since Dec. 20, 2016, when he was detained while entering the country on holiday. Egypt’s government accuses Hussein, a Doha-based Egyptian national with more than two decades of experience as a journalist, of being part of a ‘scheme of media aimed to stir up sedition, incitement against the state institutions and to spread chaos by broadcasting false news’ – a claim his employer emphatically rejects – and has repeatedly prolonged his detention.’

IPI members called on Egypt to free Hussein and all journalists held for their work, and to uphold the country’s constitutional guarantees of press freedom and free expression. They also urged Egyptian authorities to reform – both in terms of text and implementation – overly broad anti-terror laws and other legal provisions that stifle journalists’ ability to report, and to ensure that journalists can independently cover issues of public concern without fear of arbitrary detention.

The IPI congress also made a resolution calling on Ethiopia’s government to free imprisoned journalists and end its abuse of anti-terror and defamation laws to silence the press, while the Media Support jury resolved to award the 2017 IPI World Press Freedom Hero to a jailed Ethiopian journalist.

“A joint IPI-International Media Support (IMS) jury voted to award the 2017 IPI World Press Freedom Hero Award to Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who has spent more than 2,000 days behind bars since his arrest in September 2011. A persistent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, Nega was detained shortly after he published a column questioning the government’s abuse of anti-terror laws to punish journalistic scrutiny. An Ethiopian court convicted Nega in June 2012 on sham terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to 18 years in prison, a decision the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention later said violated international law,” read the resolution.

“Over a dozen other journalists are believed to be behind bars in Ethiopia due to their work, making the country one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists. Additionally, numerous Ethiopian journalists and writers who have escaped arrest or were later released from prison have been forced into exile. The list of those currently jailed includes Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the Awramba Times and recipient of the 2013 Free Press Africa Award given by the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards; Temesghen Desalegn of the news magazine Feteh; Seyoum Teshome, a blogger with the news site Ethiothinktank who has been held without charges after being quoted in a 2016 New York Times story on prominent Ethiopian marathon runner and government critic Fayisa Lilesa; and Befekadu Hailu, a member of the Zone 9 blogging collective and a joint recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s 2015 International Press Freedom Award. Reports suggest that some of those jailed have been denied critical medical treatment and have been subjected to poor prison conditions and, in some cases, psychological harassment.”

The IPI congress further pressed for the release of more 164 imprisoned journalists in Turkey and to restore judicial independence and the rule of law.

Some 164 journalists are currently behind bars, including approximately 135 imprisoned since the coup, and 170 media outlets have been shuttered. The vast majority of journalists held are accused of supporting “terrorists”. However, the allegations are generally shifting, contradictory and illogical, and cite journalists’ news reporting or other writings criticising the government.

Meanwhile The IPI congress called on Germany and the European Union to firmly embrace their role as defenders of human rights globally, including the rights to freedom of expression and the press.

“IPI members expressed concern that U.S. President Donald Trump’s demonstrated lack of understanding of the value of a free press and his attempts to smear and discredit the critical news media signal the loss of one of the world’s most consequential defenders of press freedom, creating an opening for authoritarian regimes to persecute journalistic scrutiny with greater impunity. At the same time, the concept of press freedom as a public good is under threat around the world from rising nationalism, state-sponsored propaganda and so-called ‘illiberal democracy’,” read the IPI resolution.

“Amid these developments, members emphasised that the remaining EU member states must urgently and energetically assume the mantle of the world’s single most important voice in defence of human rights. Members called on Germany in particular, as the EU’s undisputed economic and diplomatic leader, to not shy away from its growing power and responsibility to shape global developments in favour of freedom, openness and inclusivity. Germany needs to hold strong as a counterweight to authoritarian models of society exemplified by China and, increasingly, Russia. IPI members urged the EU and Germany to show strong resolve when it comes to protecting the rights of journalists to challenge and scrutinise power in countries both near and far, including the bloc’s European neighbours Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia.

         

Joseph Mwenda

About Joseph Mwenda

Joseph Mwenda is a Zambian journalist experienced in political news writing, photography and video editing.
Email: joseph [at] diggers [dot] news

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