3rd May 2017
Today marks World Press Freedom Day, an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to commend the journalists and others who risk their lives defending freedom of expression. This year’s theme, Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies, highlights the importance of the ability to speak out against human rights abuses and other cases of injustice. Over the last 35 years, PBI has worked with human rights defenders and journalists who have stood up for freedom of expression, despite the security risks that they face.
Honduras: “In a country where there is little freedom of expression, there will inevitably be violence” – Dina Meza
From 2010 to 2015, 150 journalists and media workers were killed in the Americas. 28 of those killings occurred in Honduras, making it one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work. In February 2016, the IACHR published a report on the human rights situation in Honduras. It described journalists and reporters as a group especially vulnerable to attacks in the country. In addition, in recent years more than 90% of the murders on journalists in Honduras have remained in impunity.
Since May 2014, PBI has been accompanying Honduran journalist and human rights defender Dina Meza, a renowned defender of the rights to freedom of expression and information and the founding President of PEN Honduras. Through journalism, Dina aims to “bring about change, to reveal the truth, to denounce.” However, Dina’s struggle for justice has come at a price. She has received continuous death and rape threats for over 10 years, including threats against her children. She has had to move houses several times and has seen colleagues and friends attacked and killed for the work that they do.
Mexico: Killings of journalists continue in 2017
In January 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, conducted his first official visit to Mexico, concluding that “Mexico has become one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists”. Affirming this statement, Reporters without Borders ranks Mexico on the 149th place of 180 countries in its 2016 classification on the freedom of expression. Just weeks after the UN Special Rapporteur’s visit, another three journalists were murdered. On 2 March 2017, Cecilio Pineda Birto was killed in Guerrero after receiving threats on a weekly basis. Two weeks later, Ricardo Monlui was the 11th journalist to be killed in just over six years in the state of Veracruz. On 23 of March, Miroslava Breach Velducea was shot and killed in Chihuahua City. A note was left by the gunmen that read: “for being a loud-mouth”. After the death of Cecilio Pineda, PBI accompanied organisation The OSC Space published a declaration criticising the structural flaws of the National Protection Mechanism, a mechanism created by the government to ensure the life, integrity, freedom and safety of defenders and journalists. The OSC space demanded that the Mexican State protect the right to freedom of expression and the right to defend human rights.
Colombia: “It is no longer necessary to kill journalists to silence them” – Claudia Julieta Duque
Despite the 2016 peace agreement, the human rights situation in Colombia is still precarious, and journalists and human rights defenders continue to be targeted with death threats and attacks. From January through October 2016, the Foundation for Free Press reported threats against 91 journalists. PBI accompanies the Colombian investigative journalist Claudia Julieta Duque, a correspondent for the Colombian human rights Internet radio station Radio Nizkor and a former researcher for the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR). In more than 23 years as a journalist, she has investigated and reported on numerous high-profile cases. Claudia began receiving threats in 2001, the year she began working with CCAJAR on an investigation into the 1999 murder of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón. She uncovered that agents of the then president's Administrative Department of Security (DAS) were involved in a cover-up to divert the Prosecutor General's investigation into Garzon's murder. From that moment, the threats and surveillance against her intensified, and she was forced to leave the country on several occasions for security reasons. In May 2016, four former DAS officials were charged for the psychological torture of Claudia Julieta. At the end of the year, the judge also issued an order for the preventative detention of former assistant director of the DAS and of the former intelligence detective. Meanwhile, Claudia Julieta continues to work as a journalist.
Guatemala: Criminalisation of community-based media reporters
Reporters Without Borders states that in Guatemala "Journalists are often murdered, and as a result Guatemala continues to be one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media". Journalists also face other risks including cases of criminalization; Norma Sancir, community-based reporter for Ch’orti Campesino Central New Day (CCCND), was detained by police for 5 days in 2014 whilst covering a protest march. See video on Norma Sancir (Spanish). As well as criminalisation, community based journalists face intimidations and censorship including the repression of community radio stations. Community radio provides an important outlet for information about the situation of indigenous peoples and the problems they face. However, in Guatemala they face being shut down and it's reporters criminalised. In 2015 the village of Pojom in San Mateo Ixtatan had their community radio station "Radio Snuq’ Jolom Konob’" shut down and the reporters were threatened after reporting on abuses committed by the police. Despite the threats they face, grassroots journalists across Guatemala continue to raise awareness of the problems that affect indigenous and campesino communities. More on the risks grassroots journalists face in Guatemala.