COLUMN: Free detained journalists

  - Leader file photo
— image credit: Leader file photo

This past Saturday, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day – an international day dedicated to advocating for journalistic free speech and freedom of the press.

The UN General Secretary and the UNESCO Director state that “only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.”

In many countries around the world, however, freedom of the press is restricted and stifled. In many cases, journalists put their lives on the line to conduct their reporting and expose the realities to the world.

World Press Freedom Day, therefore, is also a time to realize the dangers that exist for journalists.

According to Reporters without Borders, in 2013, 71 journalists were killed and more than 2000 were threatened or physically attacked. These sad and tragic realities not only affect the families and friends of these journalists, but also society at large, which depends on the great work of journalists who promote the truth and help bring to light problems and issues that might not have otherwise been known to the public.

There are numerous journalists, who at this moment are either being detained for their work or putting their lives in grave danger to keep the flame of truth burning.

In December of 2013, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were charged by the Egyptian government, even though they were engaging in honest journalistic pursuits. Bail has not even been granted to the journalists.

Amnesty International states that “Egypt’s continued detention of three Al Jazeera journalists charged with falsifying news and involvement with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement is ‘vindictive’.”

Others journalists have faced similar accusations.  Amnesty further states it feels the three journalists “are prisoners of conscience” and there has been a “crackdown against media who are not seen as supportive of the current government.”

Fahmy and his fellow reporters are in jail because their journalism does not fit the political viewpoints of the government. This is unacceptable, as it infringes upon the freedom of speech that journalists and all others possess.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.”

Fahmy, who is a Canadian citizen, and other detained journalists should not be held against their will for practising journalism and trying to report the situation on the ground. In fact, the efforts of journalists to expose the true political or social situation in the country can help the government better understand the issues and concerns of Egyptians.  Silencing the voice of such journalists will prevent the truth from coming out.

The detained journalists have already spent more than four months in jail and they should not have to spend any more time in such conditions. Political leaders from around the world, the UN Human Rights Commissioner and prominent journalists have all spoken against the detention of the three men.

As a youth columnist and one who is deeply passionate about social justice, I feel that it is my responsibility to advocate for journalists who are being detained. I urge readers to do the same and sign the a petition to Egypt’s Minister of Justice at bit.ly/1iY5Eyl.

Our collective voice can help put pressure on the government to release the journalists.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

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