Special Emergency Visas Necessary for Journalists Under Threat
'Increasing polarisation' needs a safety net
Journalists and media workers are facing "increasing politicization" of their work and threats to their freedom to simply do their jobs, that are "growing by the day", said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, marking World Press Freedom Day, May 2022
"This woman sitting next to me, Maria Ressa, is a Nobel laureate and a convicted criminal," said barrister Amal Clooney, who co-leads the international legal team representing Ressa. The founder of news website Rappler, Ressa has been targeted with a barrage of legal charges intended to stop her journalism in the Philippines.
During a conversation hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly high-level week, which concluded September 26, Clooney revealed that Ressa faces the possibility of imminent imprisonment in the Philippines.
"The only thing standing between her and a prison cell is one decision from the Philippines Supreme Court that could come as soon as in 21 days' time," said Clooney to an audience of news leaders, diplomats, and advocates.
She then appealed for prosecutors to drop the baseless charges and for newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to issue a pardon. In May, CPJ wrote to Marcos requesting that he urgently take concrete steps to undo former President Rodrigo Duterte's long campaign of intimidation and harassment of the press.
The conversation, led by CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg, also explored the broader misuse of laws increasingly deployed to silence the press across the world. Clooney and Ressa are both past recipients of CPJ's Gwen Ifill Press Freedom award for their extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom.
UNGA week also served to gather legal experts, diplomats, and activists to discuss the plight of journalists forced to flee their homes and the responsibility of governments to provide safe refuge through special emergency visas.
During a high-level side-event hosted by the Czech Republic, CPJ's Ginsberg joined Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and deputy chairs of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom to make the case for these visas.
Ginsberg's message: Governments must create special emergency visas for journalists to allow them to quickly evacuate and relocate to safety. The visas should be granted to individuals who are at risk due to their work keeping the public informed.
As Ginsberg noted, across the world, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua and Belarus to Myanmar, CPJ has worked on hundreds of cases of such journalists seeking safe refuge. There is no time to waste.
Journalists forced to flee often try to continue reporting in exile. Panelist Roman Anin, an exiled investigative journalist who runs news website iStories, shared his story of moving his newsroom out of Russia.
"When the war started, we had a choice between three options, either stay in Russia and stop our work, stay in Russia, continue our work and end up in jail, or relocate the newsroom," he said. Anin said that in spite of the hardship of the relocation, his newsroom has been able to reach Russian audiences with stories on alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Anin's experience, and CPJ's own work helping many other displaced journalists, demonstrate how critical it is for governments to prioritize emergency visas for swift relocation and safety. Refusing to do so not only impacts the lives of individual journalists, it is a blow to free expression and access to information globally.
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser is CPJ Advocacy and Communications Director.
Cover Photograph:A video journalist covers a news event. Credit Unsplash/Jovaughn Stephens