ONEhmet Altan is 70 years old, behind bars in Turkey and, according to his lawyer, is at risk of contracting COVID-19 from inmates who show positive signs of the disease in three neighboring cells. Altan, the former editor of a now defunct Turkish daily newspaper called Taraf, has been imprisoned since September 2016.
His role in Taraf was seen by prosecutors as “proof that he was part of the Gülenist network” and as “a supporter of the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen,” according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.
A free press coalition – a collection of nearly 40 news organizations, including TIME – has maintained a monthly list of the most serious threats to press freedom around the world. The December list highlights Altan’s story as well as several other cases related to COVID-19, including journalists fined for reporting on COVID-19 or the increased risk of contracting the disease due to their incarceration.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 207 press freedom violations related to pandemics around the world – from imprisonment to physical assault and harassment. Thousands of individuals and groups have called on the United Nations to release jailed journalists amid the ongoing health crisis. At least two journalists – David Romero from Honduras and Mohamed Monir from Egypt – died after contracting the virus while in government custody.
In Iran, journalist Mohammad Mosaed’s tweets criticizing the government, including a lackluster response to the pandemic, led to his arrest. Mosaed has been accused of “disseminating anti-system propaganda” and will be banned from journalism for two years.
In China, the journalist Zhang Zhan had already reported on the pandemic in Wuhan in February. Their reports criticized the government’s pandemic response. She was arrested in May for “engaging in disputes and provoking trouble,” according to security officials. The BBC reports that she faces up to five years in prison.
Here are 10 of the most urgent incidents of threats to press freedom around the world.
1. Ahmet Altan (Turkey)
Senior journalist particularly vulnerable to coronavirus in prison.
70-year-old Ahmet Altan has spent more than 1,500 days behind bars and, according to his lawyer, is surrounded by three neighboring cells that have positive Covid-19 signs. Altan, former editor-in-chief of the closed daily Taraf, has been detained since September 2016. In 2018, a court sentenced Altan to life imprisonment and changed the prison sentence to 10.5 years in 2019. The retrial sentenced him, “a [terrorist] Organization without being a member ”during the failed coup attempt and extensive purge in 2016.
2. Mahmoud Hussein Gomaa (Egypt)
Tactics to prevent jailed Egyptian journalists from being released.
This December, Mohamed Hussein Gomaa will have spent four years behind bars – the longest pre-trial detention for an Egyptian journalist currently awaiting a hearing. Gomaa worked with Al-Jazeera and, among other things, contributed to a documentary film about conscription in Egypt. Government officials arrested him in 2016 and misnamed the material with the aim of “creating chaos”. Gomaa was due to be released on parole in mid-2019, but his detention has been repeatedly extended. The Egyptian journalist Mohamad Ibrahim also endures this “revolving door policy”, in which new charges are brought to keep people in custody despite the order of the criminal court.
3. Mohammad Mosaed (Iran)
Mohammad Mosaed was arrested in 2020 after twittering criticism of the Iranian government – particularly its inability to adequately prepare for COVID-19.
Farid Kamran Nia
Tehran sentenced journalists to prison terms for silencing reporting on the government.
Freelance journalist Mohammad Mosaed was arrested in 2019 for a post on Twitter published in early 2020. He was arrested again in February and sentenced to nearly five years in prison. Based on a tweet he posted during Iran’s internet shutdown last year, and criticism from the government that year, including unwillingness to respond to Covid-19, Mosaed’s allegations included “collusion against national security” and “Spreading propaganda against the system”. His sentence also includes a two-year ban on journalistic activities and a two-year ban on using any communication device.
4th Solafa Magdy | (Egypt)
Journalist suffering from medical neglect and inhumane prison conditions.
Freelance reporter Solafa Magdy suffered from deliberate medical neglect and inhuman detention conditions, which increases the risk of contracting Covid-19, as did Egyptian journalist Mohamed Monir, who died on remand of the coronavirus this summer. Magdy was arrested in November 2019 for reporting on immigration and human rights in Cairo. The prosecution has brought additional charges against Magdy for acts she allegedly committed while in custody.
5. Zhang Zhan (China)
Independent journalist jailed for coronavirus reporting, now on hunger strike.
Independent journalist Zhang Zhan has been publishing reports from Wuhan since early February, including some criticism of the government’s countermeasures to contain the coronavirus. She went missing on May 14th, and the following day, security officials issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for “raising disputes and provoking trouble.” Her former lawyer resigned from the case in October due to pressure, saying Zhang had been on a hunger strike for six months and her three cellmates took turns feeding her. Two other Chinese journalists, Chen Qiushi and Li Zehua, disappeared or were arrested in connection with their Covid-19 coverage.
6. Wan Noor Hayati Wan alias (Malaysia)
Journalist struggling to find work while being prosecuted for posting on Facebook.
Journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias is being prosecuted for three comments she posted on Facebook regarding the January Covid-19 outbreak. The Malaysian government prosecuted charges that “create public fear or concern” for a maximum sentence of two years in prison for each individual post. Hayati, who previously reported for the Malaysian daily Berita Harian and the English newspaper New Straits Times, has lost her job due to cuts and is struggling to make a living as a freelancer.
7th Hopewell Chin’ono (Zimbabwe)
Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested after his coverage of suspected COVID-19 procurement fraud at the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health led to the arrest and dismissal of the country’s health minister.
Journalist in and out of custody for reporting corruption, twice bail.
Award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested and charged with incitement to a national protest against corruption after reporting to the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health on alleged fraud in the procurement of Covid-19 that resulted in the arrest and dismissal of his Minister of Health. After 45 days of pre-trial detention in a maximum security prison, Chin’ono was released on bail in September and arrested again at his home in November, initially for disobeying the court, but later for obstruction of justice after a tweet about the National Law Enforcement Agency (NPA). He was originally denied bail and was released on bail on November 20. Prosecutors alleged that Chin’ono had obstructed the judiciary by “compromising” the integrity of trials against him in the incitement process and against a relative of President Emmerson’s Mnangagwa by tweeting about sources within the NPA.
8th. Barbara Barbosa (Brazil)
Bárbara Barbosa covered the pandemic in Brazil when a group of men and women molested her and her cameraman.
Courtesy of Bárbara Barbosa
Journalists were prevented from covering the pandemic in Brazil.
On November 2, a group of around nine unidentified men and women harassed and threatened journalist Bárbara Barbosa, cameraman Renato Soder, and NSC TV staff in the southern city of Florianópolis while they were reading a report of non-compliance with the Covid-19 Prepared lock in the region. Barbosa said she received hostile messages on Instagram after the incident was reported by local media. Separately, a report found that the Mayor’s office of Rio de Janeiro used public funds to pay groups of city employees to monitor and obstruct journalists in local hospitals and to prevent news teams from reporting about Covid-19 to report.
9. Aleksandr Pichugin (Russia)
The journalist was found guilty of coronavirus mail and sentenced to pay a fine.
On November 11, Aleksandr Pichugin was found guilty of “disseminating false information that endangers the life and health of citizens” and fined US $ 3,920. The case comes from an April 12 article about his political commentary and the satirical telegram channel “Sorokin Khvost”. Pichugin said the post criticized the Russian Orthodox Church for failing to take security measures to protect parishioners from completing Covid-19. He published the post after he and other local bloggers met with the governor of Nizhny Novgorod, who urged them to use their platforms to encourage the population to comply with Covid-19 restrictions, the journalist said. Federal security agents detained Pichugin for one night and held his laptop and cell phone for investigation for a month.
10. Gautam Navlakha (India)
High-ranking journalists are charged with an extended prison term.
Gautam Navlakha, a human rights activist and columnist on the Newsclick news website, has been detained since April. He is charged with alleged links to Maoist militants and is part of a conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has written frequently on issues related to Kashmir and Maoist separatism. Navlakha, who is in his 60s, said he was keeping his innocence and was concerned about a fair and speedy trial. In addition, he feared exposure to the Covid-19 virus in prison and for years in prison. Given the nature of the charges brought against him, he is unlikely to receive bail.
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