Press freedom campaign issues monthly list of ‘most urgent’ cases

This month, One Free Press Coalition focuses on cases of violations against journalists amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein will have spent four years behind bars in Egypt this month [File: Khaled Desouki/AFP]

One Free Press Coalition (OFPC) has launched its monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom abuses around the world, focusing on cases relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each month, the coalition, which comprises prominent news organisations and publishers, including Al Jazeera Media Network, brings to the public’s attention the 10 most urgent cases of journalists whose freedoms are being suppressed or who are seeking justice.

Through the years, the campaign had highlighted what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist killed inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, as well as Mahmoud Hussein, an Al Jazeera journalist who has been held without any formal charges in Egypt since December 2016.

Hussein is on this month’s list of most urgent cases, released on Tuesday.

In its report, the OFPC cited the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which has documented 207 pandemic-related press freedom violations globally.

According to the Coalition, at least two journalists, David Romero of Honduras and Mohamed Monir of Egypt, died after being infected with COVID-19 while in government custody.

It added that journalist Azimjon Askarov also died in a prison in Kyrgyzstan “from what his family suspects was COVID-19”, although he was denied a test.

Here’s the full OFPC list for December:

1. Ahmet Altan, Turkey

Senior Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan is surrounded by three neighbouring cells whose inhabitants display signs of being COVID-positive, according to his lawyer.

Altan, who has been detained since September 2016, was sentenced to life in prison in 2018. The court changed the term to 10.5 years a year later.

2. Mahmoud Hussein, Egypt

This month, Mahmoud Hussein will complete four years behind bars – the longest pre-trial detention of any Egyptian journalist currently awaiting a hearing.

An Egyptian national working for the Al Jazeera Arabic television channel in Qatar, Hussein was arrested in Cairo on December 23, 2016, while on vacation with his family.

Hussein was due to be released on probation in mid-2019, but his detention has been extended repeatedly.

Egyptian journalist Mohamad Ibrahim is also enduring this “revolving door policy” of being kept in pre-trial detention, said the report.

3. Mohammad Mosaed, Iran

Freelance journalist Mohammad Mosaed was re-arrested in February this year and sentenced to nearly five years in prison for his tweet criticising the government over its lack of preparedness in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

He has been handed a two-year ban on journalism activities and on using all communications devices. Mosaed was first arrested in 2019 and released in early 2020.

4. Solafa Magdy, Egypt

Freelance reporter Solafa Magdy has “suffered deliberate medical neglect and inhumane prison conditions, heightening risk of contracting COVID-19,” said the report.

Magdy was arrested in November 2019 for her coverage of immigration and human rights in Cairo.

5. Zhang Zhan, China

Independent journalist Zhang Zhan went missing on May 14 this year.

The following day, security officials said Zhang had been arrested and detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Zhan had been posting reports from Wuhan, including criticism of the government’s measures to contain COVID-19. She has been on a hunger strike for six months.

6. Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias, Malaysia

Journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias is facing legal prosecution for three comments she posted on Facebook regarding the COVID-19 outbreak in January, said the report.

The criminal charges she faces carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison for each post.

7. Hopewell Chin’ono, Zimbabwe

Award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested after reporting on alleged COVID-19 procurement fraud within the country’s health ministry.

After 45 days in pre-trial detention, Chin’ono was released on bail in September. He was re-arrested in November and charged with obstruction of justice for a tweet about the National Prosecution Authority (NPA).

Originally denied bail, he was released later on bail on November 20.

8. Barbara Barbosa, Brazil

Journalist Barbara Barbosa was harassed and threatened by a group of unidentified individuals in November while preparing a report on non-compliance during the area’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Barbosa said she received hostile messages on Instagram after the incident, according to the report.

9. Aleksandr Pichugin, Russia

Journalist Aleksandr Pichugin was found guilty of “disseminating false information that poses a threat to citizens’ lives and health” and ordered to pay a fine of $3,920.

Pichugin, in a post on his Telegram channel Sorokin Khvost, had criticised the Russian Orthodox Church for its failure to take safety measures to protect congregants from contracting COVID-19.

10. Gautam Navlakha, India

Human rights activist and columnist at Newsclick news website, Gautam Navlakha faces charges on alleged links to Maoist rebels and being part of a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Navlakha, who is in his 60s, has said he fears exposure to the COVID-19 virus while in prison, said the report.

Source: Al Jazeera