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Press FreedomGlobal issues

Journalists under threat: August's 10 most urgent cases

August 3, 2020

Every month, the One Free Press Coalition draws attention to unresolved cases of crimes against journalists. This month, the list includes the cases of Omar Radi, Solafa Magdy and Maria Ressa.

Aasif Sultan
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/S. Majeed

1. Austin Tice (Syria) 

This month marks eight years since freelance American photojournalist Austin Tice went missing while reporting on the civil war in Syria. The then-31-year-old had contributed to The Washington Post, McClatchy publications and Al-Jazeera English. Tice’s family believes he is still alive, and the U.S. State Department is also operating under the assumption that Tice is still alive. The F.B.I. has offered 1 million US dollars as a reward for information leading to his return.

2. Maria Ressa (Philippines) 

Filipino-American dual citizen Maria Ressa returned to court on July 30 for a second cyber libel case, after a June 15 criminal conviction stemming from an article published in 2012. Her privately owned news website, Rappler, had reported about a local businessman’s alleged ties to a former judge. Ressa and her former colleague Reynaldo Santos Jr. were each ordered to pay 7,950 US dollars and serve at most six years in jail; all of that is pending appeal. In July more than 70 organizations launched a campaign and petition supporting independent media under attack in the Philippines.

Maria Ressa
Maria Ressa talks to reporters after a court appearanceImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Favila

Read more: Philippines: Journalist Maria Ressa pleads not guilty in tax case

3. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)   

In July, award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov died in prison aged 69. Family members had long pleaded for his release citing deteriorating health, including fever and inability to walk in his final weeks, though authorities refused to administer a COVID-19 test. The human rights reporter had served 10 years of a life sentence, which was repeatedly appealed and upheld, for trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. He was the country’s only imprisoned journalist.

4. Roohollah Zam (Iran)  

Amad News manager and activist Roohallah Zam was dealt a death sentence on June 30. He had been working for the popular anti-government news channel on the messaging app Telegram when intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps arrested him in October 2019. They brought 17 charges against him, including espionage, working against the Islamic Republic with the governments of Israel, the U.S. and France and spreading corruption which is punishable by execution. His lawyer says they plan to appeal.

Iran Teheran | Ruhollah Zam - Journalist
Ruhollah Zam during his trial at the Revolutionary Court in Teheran, IranImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Shirband

Read more: Shirin Ebadi: 'The Iranian authorities thought that the media worldwide would not pay attention to the death sentence against Zam'

5. Agnès Ndirubusa and the team at Iwacu (Burundi) 

In June, Burundi courts rejected an appeal in the case of Agnès Ndirubusa, head of Iwacu’s political desk, and colleagues Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana and Térence Mpozenzi. The four were arrested in October while covering clashes in the Bubanza Province for one of the country’s last independent outlets. The court convicted them in January of attempting to undermine state security, fined them each 530 US dollars and sentenced them to 2.5 years in prison.  

6. Svetlana Prokopyeva (Russia) 

On July 6, freelance journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva was found guilty of "justifying terrorism" in a brief 2018 commentary about repressive governments radicalizing young people. She described the charges as an “act of intimidation.” Prokopyeva who is a regional correspondent for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Russia was fined 7,000 US dollars, her computer and cellphone confiscated not to be returned, her home raided and her bank accounts frozen.

Russland Gerichtsverhandlung Journalistin Swetlana Prokopjewa
Svetlana Prokopyeva in court, charged with publicly justifying terrorismImage: Reuters/A. Vaganov

Read more: Journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva found guilty of 'inciting terrorism'

7. Aasif Sultan (India)
August 27 marks two years behind bars for Aasif Sultan, a reporter who was charged months after his 2018 arrest with “complicity” in “harboring known terrorists.” Communications blackouts in Kashmir have repeatedly delayed hearings in the case. Sultan wrote a cover story for the Kashmir Narrator about a slain Kashmiri militant, whose killing by Indian security forces set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016. He has been repeatedly interrogated and asked to reveal his sources by police. 

8. Omar Radi (Morocco)

After summoning him for interrogation for the 10th time, Moroccan authorities transferred Omar Radi to court and then to a Casablanca prison in July on charges of rape, sexual assault, receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence. Radi is a reporter for the independent Le Desk news website. His arrest comes after authorities repeatedly detained and interrogated him on an array of unrelated charges and allegedly hacked his phone. 

Read more: Morocco arrests journalist on rape and spy charges

9. Solafa Magdy (Egypt) 

Freelance reporter Solafa Magdy appeared in court with her husband last month, where she received another 45-day trial extension. She has experienced medical neglect and inhumane conditions alongside her husband in an Egypt prison. The situation heightens her risk of contracting COVID-19 like an Egyptian journalist who contracted the virus and died in pretrial detention in July. Her case has been repeatedly delayed since her arrest for covering immigration and human rights issues in Cairo last November.

Pressebilder Solafa Magdy
Solafa Magdy Image: Privat

10. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia)

In July CPJ submitted a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia calling on the U.S. intelligence community to confirm or deny the existence of documents that may provide information on its awareness of threats to Jamal Khashoggi prior to his murder. Since the Washington Post columnist was brazenly killed inside Istanbul’s Saudi consulate in 2018, the U.S. and UN have not heeded calls for an independent criminal investigation into the potential involvement of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. 

Read more: Journalists under threat: July's 10 most urgent cases