Media organizations from around the world have called on heads of states across Asia to release all jailed journalists amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
“For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death,” read the letter addressed to seven Asian heads of state.
Signed by 74 media, press freedom, and human rights groups, the letter singled out Cambodia, China, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
“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,” read the letter.
On March 30, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 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.
According to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census conducted on Dec. 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.
The organization, however, noted that at least five more journalists have been arrested since Dec. 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.
CPJ noted that 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.
With the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization said that “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 disease.
“Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care,” said the CPJ in a statement released on April 27.
The media watchdog noted that many of the jailed 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.
CPJ called on heads of states to release every jailed journalist in their respective countries and “to protect the free press and the free flow of information at this crucial time.”
The CPJ, which initiated the campaign, is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York with correspondents around the world.