May 26, 2020

Press Freedom

Press Freedom Update April 23

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released its 2020 Press Freedom Index on April 20, with special attention paid to links between the coronavirus epidemic and ranking in the Index. Researchers placed North Korea in last place at 180th, with silence from official media on the state of outbreaks, and foreign correspondents barred from investigating Pyongyang’s efforts to protect citizens. China received low marks at 177th place for facilitating the spread of the disease with censorship and pressure against whistleblowers. Iran, Egypt and Iraq are lowest among countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Brazil declined in ranking with attacks on media in the face of the virus, Hungary has dropped 16 places since 2018 with direct government control over media, and Belarus at a low ebb on the list for using the epidemic as an excuse to tighten its crackdown on press freedom. The United States ranks at number 45 on the 2020 index, rising from 48 in 2019 despite a continued campaign of “arrests, physical assaults, public denigration and the harassment of journalists.”

Turkish leftist opposition newspaper Kocaeli Ses was the target of a shooting attack on the morning of April 20, when unidentified attackers opened fire on the office in Kocaeli. The building was empty and nobody was injured, but the front window of the office was shattered in the attack. “Turkish police should do everything within their power to identify the shooters and bring them to justice. Authorities should also ensure that the newspaper’s staff can work safely and without fear,” said Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq, journalists in Kashmir, have been facing harassment and intimidation from local authorities for their reporting. On April 19, Ashiq was interrogated by police after publishing a story about tensions between Kashmiris and the police. Zahra, a freelance photojournalist, was issued a summons on April 20 related to her social media reporting. “Masrat Zahra and Peerzada Ashiq should be free to report on events in Jammu and Kashmir without facing harassment and intimidation from local authorities,” said Aliya Iftikhar, the CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Police should drop their investigations into both journalists, and India should reform its laws to make such capricious actions by police impossible.”

Natig Isbatov, an Azerbaijani freelance reporter, was arrested on April 9 after filming a protest outside of an employment office in Baku. Isbatov was sentenced to 30 days of detention for “violating the lockdown” and “resisting the police.” “The misuse of lockdown measures to target reporters is the latest escalation in the persecution of independent journalism in Azerbaijan,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RWB’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The authorities are not keeping their promises to protect journalists. We firmly condemn Natig Isbatov’s detention and demand his immediate release.”