While the White House considers reviewing libel lawsand reporters face arrest both in the United States and around the world, Amnesty International is calling on governments around the world to respect the freedom of the press on World Press Freedom Day – observed on May 3.
In the United States, reporters have been arrested while covering events like the protests during Donald Trump’s inauguration and near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Jenni Monet, a freelance reporter who was covering the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock in February, was detained by police for 30 hours despite following instructions to stay behind police lines and showing her credentials.
“It didn’t matter that I was complying with their instructions and it didn’t matter that they knew I was a member of the press. I was handcuffed and held in a chain link enclosure with 18 other women for hours,” said Monet. “There were times throughout my coverage when national interest would wane and I was the only reporter there. The authorities cannot prevent a story from being told by intimidating reporters with the threat of arrest.”
Monet was charged with trespassing and rioting. Amnesty International USA is asking for those charges to be dropped.
“Reporters play a critical role in holding governments accountable for human rights abuses,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Whether they are working in Turkey, Egypt, Mexico, the United States or anywhere else in the world, the press must be able to do their job.”
Internationally, top journalists, cartoonists and world-renowned artists have joined a campaign to demand the release of more than 120 journalists jailed in Turkey following last summer’s coup attempt and an end to the ruthless crackdown on freedom of expression in the country.
The campaign, which has attracted 250,000 supporters since February, will coincide with World Press Freedom Day and the publication of an Amnesty International briefing, Journalism is not a crime: Crackdown on media freedom.
Since the failed coup attempt in July 2016, at least 156 media outlets have been shut down and an estimated 2,500 journalists and other media workers have lost their jobs. Journalists have been arrested and charged with terrorism offences as a result of posts they have shared on Twitter, cartoons they have drawn or opinions they expressed. This is taking place within the context of a wider crackdown against perceived government critics which has seen 47,000 people remanded in prison and more than 100,000 public sector employees summarily dismissed.
Journalist Mahir Kanaat was arrested with six colleagues on Christmas day. “My hands were tied behind my back and a ‘special team’ [police officer] was on top of me. I shouted ‘my wife is nine months pregnant, why are you making her lay down’ and tried to get up. There was a scuffle, I was kicked in the face.” Kanaat’s wife gave birth to their son while he was in detention. He is still in prison awaiting trial.
Former newspaper editor Ahmet Altan was detained in September 2016 along with his brother, academic Mehmet Altan. They were accused of ‘sending subliminal messages’ to the coup plotters during a TV panel discussion on the eve of the coup attempt. The program’s presenter, Nazlı Ilıcak, was also arrested and remains in pre-trial detention.
Investigative journalist, Ahmet Şik, has been remanded in custody since December. In the indictment against him, eight tweets, two interviews and an article were listed as evidence of his aiding three separate proscribed groups, all of which have totally different, often opposing, agendas. His wife Yonca told Amnesty International: “Ahmet’s imprisonment is a message to others: ‘Speak out if you dare’.”