CPJ calls on U.N. to demand release of jailed journalists during COVID-19 pandemic

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the United Nations to demand the release of jailed journalists across the world, including in Turkey, during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In a submission to the U.N., the CPJ said that while the coronavirus pandemic has become central to the public discourse on health and economics, “the insidious and crippling effect that COVID-19 and the government responses it elicits have on press freedom, freedom of expression, and the safety of journalists” have received less attention. 

The CPJ said that journalists provide an essential public service, as the public relies on the free flow of information to make informed decisions. 

“While CPJ has been active in supporting journalists still carrying out their work, we are fearful for those journalists currently imprisoned, who are unable to take necessary precautions. The U.N. and its special mandate holders must take action on behalf of this particularly vulnerable group,” it said. 

The CPJ noted that incarcerated journalists are frequently held in cruel, degrading, and inhumane conditions – and have been subject to torture, abuse, and denial of access to medical treatment. 

“And as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the globe, CPJ is deeply concerned by the danger this virus poses to journalists held in government custody,” it said.

The submission reiterates the messages of the CPJ’s ongoing #FreeThePress campaign and petition.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on governments to release all journalists from their prisons. On behalf of more than 250 journalists behind bars, we call on authorities to free these political prisoners immediately and unconditionally,” the CPJ said in its petition.

The CPJ's most recent prison census, conducted in December 2019, found that China is the leading jailer of journalists with 48 cases, followed by Turkey with 47, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia with 26 cases each. All these countries have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks.

Journalism watchdog Reporters without Borders said at least eight Turkish journalists had been detained for pandemic-related reporting.

The CPJ, which holds consultative status with the U.N., is an independent, nonprofit organisation that defends the rights of journalists to report the news worldwide without fear of reprisal.