May 3 was World Press Freedom Day – an international day dedicated to advocating for journalistic free speech and freedom of the press.
The UN general secretary and the UNESCO director say that “only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticize policies and actions can good governance exist.”
In many countries, however, freedom of the press is restricted and stifled. In many cases, journalists put their lives on the line to conduct their reporting and expose the realities to the world.
World Press Freedom Day, therefore, is also a time to realize the dangers that exist for journalists.
According to Reporters without Borders, “71 journalists were killed” – and more than 2,000 “threatened or physically attacked” – in 2013.
These sad and tragic realities not only affect the families and friends of these journalists, but also society at large, which depends on the work of journalists who promote the truth and help bring to light problems and issues that might not have otherwise been known to the public.
There are numerous journalists who, at this very moment, are either being detained or putting their lives in grave danger to keep the flame of truth burning.
In December 2013, Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were charged by the Egyptian government, even though they were just engaging in honest journalistic pursuits.
Bail has not been granted.
Amnesty International states that “Egypt’s continued detention of three Al Jazeera journalists charged with falsifying news and involvement with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement is ‘vindictive.’”
Amnesty further states that they feel that the three journalists “are prisoners of conscience” and there has been a “crackdown against media who are not seen as supportive of the current government.”
Fahmy – and his fellow journalists are in jail because their journalism does not fit the political viewpoints of the government. This is unacceptable, as it infringes upon the freedom of speech that journalists and all others possess.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.”
Fahmy, who is a Canadian citizen, and other detained journalists, should not be held against their will for practising journalism and trying to report the situation on the ground.
In fact, the efforts of journalists to expose the true political or social situation in the country can help the government better understand the issues and concerns of Egyptians.
Silencing the voice of such journalists will prevent the truth from coming out.
The detained journalists have already spent more than four months in jail, and they should not have to spend any more time in such conditions.
Political leaders from around the world, the UN Human Rights Commissioner and prominent journalists have all spoken against the detention of the three journalists.
As a youth columnist – and one who is deeply passionate about social justice – I feel it is my responsibility to advocate for journalists who are being detained.
I urge you to do the same and sign the petition to Egypt’s Minister of Justice,
Our collective voice can help put pressure on the government to release the journalists.
Japreet Lehal, a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey, writes monthly for Peace Arch News.