The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, has called on States to free all media workers detained because of their work and stop the intimidation and repression of the independent press.
In a statement he released on May 1, 2020, to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Mr. Kaye noted that: “A free press gives people access to information of all kinds, especially critical during a public health crisis. In recent months, independent journalism has been an essential lever for public information, uncovering stories of government deception while helping people worldwide understand the nature and scope of the public health crisis we are all confronting.”
He contended that detaining journalists runs directly counter to the State’s obligation to ensure an enabling environment for the media.
He reminded States that detention’s cruelty is exposed at a time when disease outbreaks spread through detention facilities, imposing an additionally excessive punishment that carries with it the risk of illness and death.
UN Special Rapporteur pointed out that hundreds of journalists have been detained because of their work, citing the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which estimates that 250 journalists are in prison and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which has called to the UN’s attention a ‘wave of press freedom violations.’
Mr. Kaye said: “The criminalisation of journalism must end. That can start with releasing journalists from detention as a matter of urgency.”
He disclosed that he has received alarming accounts of official retaliation against journalists under the guise of spreading disinformation since the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic early this year, adding “In my recently published report to the UN Human Rights Council I emphasised the way in which Governments attack the messenger and limit reporting rather than act responsively on the information disclosed.”
Noting that the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘journalism without fear or favour’, he urged all States to ensure that media workers can do their jobs without fear, keeping in mind that journalism expands the public’s right to know and the public’s right to accountable government.