This week Just Asia focuses on World Press Freedom Day, marked annually on May 3. The day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom and pays tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession. Most recently, nine journalists were killed in Afghanistan, after rushing to report on a suicide blast by two Islamic State bombers on April 30th. A total of 25 people were killed.
Next, according to Basil Fernando, Director of Policy and Program Development at the Asian Human Rights Commission, one of the key issues concerning press freedom in Asia, is the lack of truthful reporting on areas of key concern to ordinary people and their lives. Not only does the current trend of ‘fake news’ violate people’s right to information and truth, but it is also being used by leaders and governments to further restrict free speech.
India fell two more places in this year’s World Press Freedom Index to 138th, just one place ahead of Pakistan. The past year saw the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist who was staunchly anti-right wing in her writing as well as incessant and violent trolling online of journalists and activists expressing views against the ruling party, government or majoritarian ideology.
Next, Indonesia is seeing increased attacks against freedom of expression, affecting both journalists and media outlets. According to the Alliance of Independent Journalists, a total of 72 cases of violence against journalists occurred from May 2016 to April 2017. Most recently, the rightwing Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) protested against Tempo magazine and forced the magazine to apologize for allegedly insulting their leader in their publication.
Another cause for concern is the situation of press freedom in Papua, where international journalists still face many bureaucratic hurdles to obtain visiting permits. In the rare instances where access is granted, journalists are accompanied by government and security officials. Just Asia speaks to journalist Mr. Suwarjono, for more information.
Moving to Bangladesh, press freedom is consistently curtailed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government. As a result, Bangladesh ranks 146th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, lowest among South Asian countries. According to documentation, 15 journalists were killed under the incumbent government from January 2009 to April 2018. During the same period, 928 journalists were injured, 284 assaulted, 350 threatened and 82 attacked while they were performing their professional duties.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the majority of Asian countries are doing badly when it comes to press freedom. China, Cambodia and Vietnam continue to severely restrict media outlets, arresting and imprisoning many journalists. Burma is taking the same route, with two Reuters reporters currently detained for reporting on a massacre during the crackdown against Rohingya in Rakhine state. Journalists in the Philippines are also facing threats and abuse under President Duterte, particularly those reporting on the drug war. Pakistan continues to be one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with disappearances, extrajudicial killings and harassment for all those criticizing the government, military or fundamentalists.
Finally, the Urgent Appeals Weekly features one case from Indonesia.
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