Journalists are often key players in the human rights struggle. By turning a spotlight on injustice, they help expose abuses and draw attention to human rights issues.
It is for this reason that many human rights and freedom of expression organisations, including Amnesty International UK, give awards to recognise the contribution journalists make. It is for this same reason that journalism can be a particularly perilous profession.
It is sadly not unusual for journalists to be threatened, attacked, imprisoned or even killed – as those with something to hide seek to silence those who would publish the truth. This last week has brought two shocking reminders of this brutal reality.
RECIPIENT OF AMNESTY AWARD THREATENED IN HONDURAS
Dina Meza is a Honduran journalist and human rights activist. In recent weeks she has received a vile series of threats of sexual violence.
I was privileged to meet Dina when she visited London in 2007 to accept Amnesty International UK’s “Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”. At the time, Dina was working for a website published by the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ). After investigating several private security firms for labour rights violations, Dina and her colleagues were subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation. In December 2006, ASJ lawyer Dionisio Díaz García was shot dead.
Dina is now working for a different website, Defenders Online, reporting on human rights issues, and she is also involved with the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared. Her safety is again at risk.
When I met her five years ago, I was deeply impressed and moved by the strength Dina showed in continuing her work in such difficult circumstances – and I continue to be. In fact, her determined face, in the enlarged photo on our office wall, provides daily inspiration to me and my colleagues.
Please join us in calling on the Honduran authorities to ensure that the threats against Dina are investigated, and that she is protected.
RECIPIENT OF INDEX ON CENSORSHIP AWARD HOSPITALISED IN AZERBAIJAN
The second recent incident which has appalled me happened just yesterday, in Azerbaijan. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll be aware that those who bravely speak out against the government in Azerbaijan risk being beaten, arrested and imprisoned. So this latest case doesn’t exactly come as a surprise – but is no less shocking for that.
On Wednesday (18 April), journalists were violently assaulted as they tried to film illegal house demolitions and an attack on residents who were resisting these. Idrak Abbasov, who just last month won the Index on Censorship Guardian Award for Journalism, was beaten unconscious. His brother, Adalet Abbasov, suffered head injuries and a broken rib. Both were hospitalised following the attack on them by around 25 state employees and police.
What is perhaps surprising about this horrific assault is the timing. Next month, Azerbaijan will host the Eurovision Song Contest – bringing international attention to the country. With so many eyes upon them (Eurovision will be watched by around 100 million people) you might think that the Azerbaijani authorities would want to present a positive image to the world – but it seems that rather than actually being on their best behaviour, they have decided to try to achieve this by forcibly preventing news of abuses from getting out.
But it has – and we know that this is not an isolated incident. We are continuing to urge Eurovision organisers to do more for free speech in Azerbaijan. We are also continuing to campaign for the Azerbaijani authorities to demonstrate respect for the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Please join us right now in calling for an immediate investigation into the beating and harassment of journalists on 18 April.
I can’t help thinking that, in one sense, these brave journalists are doing just what I do – publicising details of human rights abuses. But that’s where the comparison ends. I know that when I leave the office, the worst I have to contend with is the April showers. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to find out whether I would dare to continue my work if my safety was at risk – but I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have the courage. That there are other people in the world – people like Dina, Idrak and Adalet – who are prepared to take personal risks in order to expose violations, is something which fills me with admiration, gratitude and hope. The least we can do is to tell their stories and demonstrate our support.
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