73 media and rights groups urge Asian heads of state to release jailed journalists

To: Prime Minister of Cambodia Hun Sen
President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi
State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung Sun Suu Kyi
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte
President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong

April 27, 2020

Sent via email

Your Excellencies,

We the 74 undersigned media, press freedom, and human rights organizations are writing to call on your respective governments to release all jailed journalists amid the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 30, the Committee to Protect Journalists began a campaign called #FreeThePress, launching a petition and publishing an open letter to world leaders urging the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for their work. Given that a staggering number of these imprisoned journalists are held in jails across the Asian continent, we are reiterating that call to your respective countries at this time of grave public health concern.

According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted on December 1, 2019, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia, including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

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.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone 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.

According to the World Health Organization, “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.”

For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.

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.

We urge you to release every jailed journalist in your respective countries and to protect the free press and the free flow of information at this crucial time. Journalism must not carry a death sentence.

Sincerely,

Afghan Journalists Safety Committee
AGHS Legal Aid Cell
Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom
Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia
Americans for Kashmir
Amnesty International India
ARTICLE 19
Cambodian Center for Independent Media
Cambodian Journalists Alliance
Centre of Media Persons for Change, Chennai – India
CGNet Swara – India
Civil Rights Defenders
Coalition for Women in Journalism
Committee to Protect Journalists
Committee Against Assault on Journalists – India
Dhaka Tribune
Digital Rights Foundation
Federation of Nepali Journalists
Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
Freedom of Expression Myanmar
Free Media Movement
Freedom Forum
Freedom Network – Pakistan
Free Speech Collective – India
Hong Kong Free Press
Human Rights in China
Hyderabad Journalists Federation – India
Hyderabad Working Journalists Federation – India
Hyderabad Union of Working Journalists – India
Impulse Model Press Lab – India
Imphal Free Press – India
Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam
Indian Federation of Working Journalists
Indian Journalists Union
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Internet Freedom Foundation – India
Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society – India
Jansandesh Times – India
Journalists Union of Assam
Kashmir Working Journalists Association – India
Kashmir Times – India
Kerala Union of Working Journalists – India
Local Press Hong Kong
Malaysiakini
Media Action Nepal
Mumbai Press Club – India
Mumbai Patrakar Sangh – India
Nai Baat
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia
New Bloom Magazine
New Naratif
Network of Women in Media India
Overseas Press Club of Cambodia
Pakistan Press Foundation
Park Center for Independent Media, Ithaca College
People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights – India
People's Union for Civil Liberties – India
PEN Delhi – India
PEN Myanmar
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Press Association – India
Radio Free Asia
Siasat Daily – India
South Asia Free Media Association – Sri Lanka
South Asian Journalists Association
South Asia Women in Media, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
Tamil Nadu Women Journalists Association – India
Talk Journalism, India
Telangana State Union of Working Journalists – India
Telangana Urdu Working Journalists Union – India
The 88 Project
The Irrawaddy
The Lede – India
The Reporter, Taiwan
Weiquanwang