With the New Year festivities around the corner, the IFJ remembers the scores of journalists in prisons around the world. Many are held without trial and some in secret locations, and those who had a trial had to confront the most ludicrous charges of anti-state crimes.
In the two most recent high-profile trials, Turkey and Ethiopia used their anti-terror laws against journalists. In the case of the two Swedish colleagues, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, they were condemned on 27th December to an 11 years’ prison sentence after being convicted of supporting terrorism and on a less important charge of entering the country’s Ogaden region illegally. They denied throughout their ordeal any accusation of supporting terrorism, namely the Ogaden National Liberation Front, and maintained that they were investigating Lundin Oil, a company involving Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. Their plea fell on deaf ears and the judge ruled that they should serve "rigorous imprisonment”.
A day earlier on 26th December, the trial of 10 Turkish journalists opened in Istanbul with the prosecution again using anti-terror laws, following another trial of 10 other journalists which took place on 22nd November. More was still to come as dozens of journalists were later arrested in coordinated raids across the country bringing the total to over 90 journalists currently in jail awaiting trial, most of the time under the pretext of allegations of terrorist activities.
On both these cases we are determined to extend in the new year our campaigns to free these journalists. But more needs to be done to defeat the anti-terror laws and the cynical way they are manipulated by unscrupulous governments to sacrifice civil liberties under the pretext of security.
At the IFJ global conference on anti-terror laws last September, we managed to bring together the widest coalition to fight attempts by authoritarian regimes to use these laws to reinforce their oppressive systems, and to restrict dissent inside and outside media and to curtail free speech.
The latest trials demonstrate once again how authoritarian governments can redefine at will what constitutes terrorism to prosecute and gag journalists. In the Turkish trials, the minister of the interior İdris Naim Şahin went so far as to include art, poetry, journalism and academia.
As well as freeing our colleagues, our main target remains that all counter-terrorism and national security laws are reviewed to ensure compliance with international human rights and freedom of expression standards.