On the occasion of Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) condemned the numerous press freedom violations that have occurred in several countries since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, protection measures for the media have often been insufficient and at least 55 journalists in 23 countries have died from the coronavirus since 1 March, PEC said.
Censorship, Internet shutdowns, arbitrary detentions of journalists, physical and verbal attacks and emergency laws that restrict press freedom have occurred in recent weeks. “The fight against the coronavirus is being used as a pretext by some governments to suppress freedoms of expression, assembly and demonstration,” said PEC secretary-general Blaise Lempen. “We condemn these excessive and unjustified violations and call on all States to respect the right of citizens to information and their right to health”, he added.
The statement published by PEC on Friday said: “Public information is particularly important in this health crisis. It has nothing to do with a war situation where the media are controlled for reasons of national defence. On the contrary, in the present circumstances, journalists must be able to report freely on the spread of the disease throughout the world, an essential measure to curb it. Transparency is paramount and can be life-saving in a health crisis.”
Insufficient protective measures
PEC stated: “Journalists are at great risk in this health crisis because they must continue to inform, by going to hospitals, interviewing doctors, nurses, political leaders, specialists, scientists, patients. In various countries, the indispensable protective measures (social distancing, wearing masks, hygiene measures, quarantine) have not been applied, especially at the beginning of the epidemic.”
Since 1 March, PEC has recorded the deaths of 55 media workers in 23 countries as a result of the coronavirus: Algeria, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Iran, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Togo, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Ecuador was the hardest hit country, with at least 9 journalists killed as a result of Covid-19, ahead of the United States (8), Brazil (4), United Kingdom (3) and Spain (3).
The PEC stated that the professional cause of some of these deaths is not always established. The PEC team offered condolences to families and colleagues of the deceased.
Release Julian Assange
The PEC also denounced the refusal of several States to release imprisoned journalists, endangering their lives, even though prisons are a hotbed for the spread of the virus. “We are particularly outraged by the British authorities’ refusal to release Julian Assange, whose health is already being seriously damaged by his detention,” Lempen said.
“The death in custody of the co-founder of Wikileaks would be a huge scandal, as would his extradition to the United States,” he added. “We call upon the British authorities to release Assange without delay on humanitarian grounds”, the PEC secretary-general said.
One of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis is that the number of journalists killed in areas of conflict and internal violence continues to decrease. In four months, from January to April, 18 journalists were killed worldwide, compared to 20 for the same period last year and 46 for the first four months of 2018. Mexico remains the most dangerous country with four journalists killed, with Iraq (also 4), then Syria (2) and Pakistan (2).