On May 3, PEN International joins the global community in celebrating World Press Freedom Day. Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, this international day recognises the fundamental principles of press freedom, including the importance of defending the media from attacks on their independence and of paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while exercising their profession.
"For a century now, PEN’s global membership has been mobilising in support of an independent and free press, defending journalists who are emotionally, verbally and physically threatened and sometimes killed for speaking truth to power, and urging political leaders to guarantee freedom of expression. At a time when threats against the press around the world are at an unprecedented high, PEN’s community continues to defend and protect the role of an independent and free press in uncovering the truth and sustaining democracy." — Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.
As outlined in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the coming decade will be crucial for the future of journalism, with the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating the many crises that have been jeopardising press freedom. It is therefore now more important than ever to keep challenging attacks to press freedom as well as to stand in solidarity with silenced journalists.
On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International remembers those journalists who lost their lives and those who are targeted in the pursuit of a story. The organization features the case of Idris Said ‘Abba Arre’ (Eritrea), Daphne Caruana Galizia (Malta), Kalúa Salazar (Nicaragua) and Maria Ressa (Philippines), and calls on its members to mobilise so that governments respect and protect press freedom.
Idris Said ‘Abba Arre’ is an Eritrean writer and journalist, known for his work on mother tongue education and critique of the government’s language policy. Said was arrested and detained in October 2001 after he reportedly questioned a massive crackdown on dissent.
The limited information available suggests that Said was first detained at the Eiraeiro Maximum Security Prison until early 2016, then transferred to an undisclosed location along with other inmates. In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Eritrean authorities, through the Director of the state-owned Eritrean News Agency, said that Said was a member of the civil service and not a journalist without addressing questions on Said’s whereabouts or conditions.
Write to the Eritrean authorities:
- Protesting the detention of the writer Idris Said ‘Abba Arre’ on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since for close to 20 years.
- Demanding that the whereabouts and fate of Idris Said Aba Arre are immediately clarified and calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Minister of Information
Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel
P.O. Box 242
+291 124 847
President of Eritrea
His Excellency, Isaias Afewerki
Office of the President,
O. Box 257,
Fax: + 2911 125123
Email (through the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the United Nation): firstname.lastname@example.org
Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist and anti-corruption campaigner, was assassinated on 16 October 2017 when a car bomb detonated as she drove away from her home in Bidnija. She was 53 years old. The government whose corruption she investigated repeatedly obstructed the path to justice for Caruana Galizia and her family, including by delaying a long-awaited public inquiry into her assassination. Dozens of civil defamation lawsuits continued against her posthumously. Meanwhile, human rights defenders and journalists who have been campaigning on the case have been facing serious pressure, harassment and acts of reprisal. So far, seven men have either admitted to or been charged with complicity to kill Caruana Galizia. The murder investigation and public inquiry are ongoing.
Call on the Maltese authorities to ensure full justice for all those involved in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the corruption she exposed. Further call on the authorities to act on the findings of the public inquiry once it is concluded.
Role: Prime Minister of Malta
Address: Office of the Prime Minister, Auberge de Castille, Valletta VLT 1061, Malta
Kalúa Salazar is a Nicaraguan journalist currently working for La Costeñísima radio, in the city of Bluefields, Nicaragua. On 23 September 2020, Salazar was found guilty of the crime of slander, as a result of an article in which she wrote about corruption within the government. On 29 September 2020, Salazar was sentenced to pay $220 in fines, corresponding to 120 days of her salary. On 9 March 2021, the accusing party requested that these fines be incremented to correspond to 300 days of her salary, for having acted “with hatred, with the desire to harm others, with journalistic irresponsibility and in a premeditated manner”. This new ruling is expected to be announced in the following weeks.
Police agents have been monitoring Salazar’s house since early 2021. On 19 April 2021, she was prevented from leaving her home and was physically attacked when trying to go out to work. Three years since the beginning of a human rights crisis in Nicaragua, critical and independent journalists continue facing serious risks, including censorship at the hands of the government.
Support Kalúa Salazar as well as Nicaraguan journalists, writers, NGOs and media by asking the authorities to stop the legal harassment against them. Send letters of concern to the Nicaraguan embassies about the threats to freedom of expression in Nicaragua.
Maria Ressa, image courtesy of Franz Lopez (Flickr permissions)
Maria Ressa is an award-winning journalist, writer and co-founder of Rappler, an independent online news outlet based in the Philippines. Beginning with her initial arrest on 13 February 2019, Ressa has been the target of a campaign of legal harassment and intimidation by the Duterte government as part of its efforts to silence free expression and criminalise journalism. Maria currently faces numerous bogus charges including libel and tax evasion for carrying out her journalistic work - work which includes ground-breaking journalism that exposes numerous examples of government corruption and the horrific human cost of Duterte's ‘war on drugs’, which has resulted in thousands of extra-judicial killings.
Despite drawing condemnation from the United Nations, the Duterte government has continued to weaponize the legal system against Ressa and her colleagues. In one such case, on 15 June 2020, Ressa and a co-defendant were found guilty of cyber-libel for an article that was published several years before the cyber-libel law even existed. On 3 December 2020, she was charged with second libel case over an article published by Rappler in 2002. If convicted on all the charges, Ressa could face close to a century in prison.
Ask the authorities to immediately quash all charges against Maria Ressa and her colleagues at Rappler, and to bring an end to the weaponization of the legal system against government critics.
Rodrigo Roa Duterte
Role: President of the Philippines
Address: Office of the President, Malacañan Palace Compound, J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila, Philippines 1000