The Committee to Protect Journalists along with 73 media and rights groups have written to the heads of seven Asian countries requesting the release of jailed journalists in those countries amid the global health emergency posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter written on April 27 follows the #FreeThePress campaign launched by the CPJ on March 30 earlier this year.
According to the letter, a staggering number of journalists are imprisoned in jails across the Asian continent. Highlighting the fact that for journalists who are jailed in the affected countries, freedom is a matter of life and death, the letter says, “People deprived of their liberty, and those living or working in enclosed environments in their close proximity, are likely to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease than the general population.”
Citing CPJ’s latest annual prison census which was conducted on December 1, 2019, the letter states that “there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.”
It adds that, “As of March 31, at least five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam, according to CPJ research. However, at least five more journalists have been arrested since December 1, including Sovann Rithy in Cambodia, Chen Jiaping in China, Gautam Navlakha in India, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in Pakistan, and Frenchiemae Cumpio in the Philippines.”
The right to freedom of opinion and expression without interference and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers is guaranteed under the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, despite this guaranteed right, “many of these journalists have been held in detention without trial for lengthy periods and are suffering from ill health exacerbated by underlying health conditions and overcrowded prisons, where they have contracted malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases,” states the letter.
The media and rights groups also draw attention to the fact that the imprisoned journalists do not have any control over their surroundings and are often denied necessary medical care.
The letter is addressed to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, President of the People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister of India, State Counsellor of Myanmar, Prime Minister of Pakistan, President of Philippines and President of Vietnam.
The letter can be accessed here.