A free press allows journalists, reporters, and other media professionals to tell the world the truth about human rights abuses and put pressure on governments to keep their promises and respect international law. However, in many countries around the world freedom of the press is at risk.
Fighting for a free press means supporting individual journalists as they report on human rights issues , and calling on governments to legislate for protections for media organisations. In some parts of the world it also means fighting against unjust legislation and calling for the release of wrongfully imprisoned journalists. Around the world legislation is frequently used to justify the wrongful imprisonment of journalists who record human rights abuses as they happen.
By protecting those who protect us we can ensure the powerful are always held to account.
Demand the release of wrongfully imprisoned journalists
Journalists, media professionals, writers and activists all play a key part in maintaining freedom of expression and holding the powerful to account. Unfortunately, they often find themselves facing danger for doing their work. Arresting journalists has long been a tactic of authoritarian governments looking to silence critical reporting and to obstruct information from reaching the public.
During the COVID-19 pandemic these arrests have become even more dangerous for journalists, as they are often unable to access important healthcare whilst imprisoned. By following the cases of journalists who are wrongfully detained we can fight for their right to be free.
The case of Zhang Zhan
One case of a journalists who is currently facing wrongful imprisonment is citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, 37, who disappeared in May 2020 after documenting the response of her government to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Previously a lawyer, Zhang Zhan travelled to Wuhan in February 2020 determined to get the truth out about how government officials had detained independent reporters and harassed families of Covid-19 patients.
After her posts to YouTube suddenly stopped in May 2020, authorities confirmed that she had been detained by police in Shanghai, 640km away. In September 2020, she was sent to court on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. Three months later she was found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
Zhang Zhan has remained in Shanghai Women’s Prison since March 2021. The authorities continue to refuse her family visits.
Fight for protections on social media
Social media can be an important tool for journalists to get information to the public – particularly for citizen journalists. However, in the wrong hands it can be used as a way to target and harass specific reporters. Female media professionals can often face more harassment on social media than their male counterparts, particularly if they also hold other marginalised identities.
Since the release of Toxic Twitter in 2018, Amnesty International has continued to highlight the scale of abuse women face on Twitter, including in Argentina, India, UK and USA. Meanwhile, women have continued to speak out about the abuse they experience on Twitter, and the company’s failure to adequately respond.
By holding Twitter to account we can ensure media professionals and citizen journalists who use social media to report on human rights abuse are protected against harrassment and smear campaigns.
The case of Amal Fathy
One case Women’s rights defender Amal Fathy has been imprisoned in Egypt simply for posting her #MeToo story on Facebook and criticising the government on its women’s rights record. Women should have the right to speak out and share their stories, without threats to their freedom.
Supporting a free press in Australia
You can fight for press freedom in Australia by supporting the media professionals who report on human rights abuses around the world. By supporting the work of media professionals we can send a powerful message that press freedom is worth a fight.
Follow the Media Awards
To support a free press in Australia you can follow the Amnesty International Australia Media Awards and support the hard work of journalists as they fight for human rights around the world. Each year the awards acknowledge those Australian media stories that have presented a fair and balanced report of a human rights issue, highlighted hidden abuses and encouraged an audience’s greater understanding of a human rights issue.