An Open Letter from Marc and Debra Tice
(Austin Tice/Credit: Tice Family)

(Austin Tice/Credit: Tice Family)

August 14, 2012, Austin Tice was reporting from Syria when he was detained at a checkpoint near Damascus. 

Austin was captured three days after his 31st birthday. In our family, we pay special attention to our “_9” years. The “9’s” close the decades of our lives. On August 11, Austin will be 39; he will be living the first days of his fourth decade in captivity. 

Each year around Austin’s birthday and the date of his capture, there’s a brief moment of renewed attention and media coverage. Our son is imprisoned every single day. Every single day Austin needs his colleagues in journalism to ask questions about what is being done to bring him home, to dig for answers when they meet with obfuscation, and to hold U.S. government officials accountable for their actions or lack thereof.

President Trump is committed to bring Austin home. He has spoken out publicly and reached out personally to Syria requesting engagement to arrange Austin’s secure release and safe return

Even so, the Secretary of State did not proceed with discussing U.S. hostages with Syria according to John Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened.” He writes, “All these negotiations about our role with Syria were complicated by Trump’s constant desire to call Assad on U.S. Hostages, which Pompeo and I thought undesirable. Fortunately Syria saved Trump from himself, refusing even to talk to Pompeo about them.” 

Direct dialogue between the U.S. and Syria is the channel for Austin’s release. 

The entire press freedom community can work to ensure Austin’s secure release and safe return by holding government officials accountable and calling for dialogue with the Syrian government; reaching out in any way which gets a message to Secretary Pompeo, or, even better, directly to President Trump.

Every single day Austin needs you to raise your voice to hasten the day when he will walk free.

May it be soon.

10 Most Urgent – August 2020

These are August 2020’s 10 most pressing cases of journalists under attack, according to One Free Press Coalition:

1. Austin Tice (Syria): Eight years without updates regarding American reporter who disappeared in 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 a $1 million reward for information leading to his return.

2. Maria Ressa (Philippines): Editor on trial exemplifies Filipino government’s silencing of independent media. U.S.-Filipino dual citizen Maria Ressa returned to court 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 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/Credit: Dia Dipasupil Getty Images for CPJ)

(Maria Ressa/Credit: Dia Dipasupil Getty Images for CPJ)

3. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan): Medical neglect caused death of journalist serving life sentence. Award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov died in prison at age 69 in July. Family members had long pled 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 and the first killed since 2007.
 

(Azimjon Askarov/Credit: Sherzod Askarov)

(Azimjon Askarov/Credit: Sherzod Askarov)

4. Roohollah Zam (Iran): Journalist planning to appeal death sentence. 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 last October. They brought 17 charges including espionage, working against the Islamic Republic with governments of Israel, the U.S. and France and spreading corruption which is punishable by execution. His lawyer says they plan to appeal.

5. Agnès Ndirubusa and the team at Iwacu (Burundi): Court denies appeal for four journalists serving 2.5 years. 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 and sentenced them to 2.5 years in prison. 

(Iwacu's Christine Kamikazi, left, Agnès Ndirubusa, right/Credit: Iwacu Media)

(Iwacu's Christine Kamikazi, left, Agnès Ndirubusa, right/Credit: Iwacu Media)

6. Svetlana Prokopyeva (Russia): Journalist describes harassment and conviction as intimidation. Freelance journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva was found guilty on July 6 of “justifying terrorism” in a brief 2018 commentary about repressive governments radicalizing young people. She described the charges as an “act of intimidation.” A regional correspondent for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Russia, Prokopyeva was fined $7,000, her computer and cellphone were confiscated not to be returned, her home was raided and her bank accounts frozen.

7. Aasif Sultan (India): Journalist jailed two years without trial. 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 on 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.

(Aasif Sultan/Credit: Free Aasif Sultan_Facebook)

(Aasif Sultan/Credit: Free Aasif Sultan_Facebook)

8. Omar Radi (Morocco): Independent journalist jailed after repeated interrogations and intimidation. 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. A reporter for the independent Le Desk news website, Radi’s arrest comes after authorities repeatedly detained and interrogated  him on an array of unrelated charges and allegedly hacked his phone

9. Solafa Magdy (Egypt): Prison conditions threaten journalist’s health and safety from covid-19. Freelance reporter Solafa Magdy has not been heard from since March 9 and 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 arrest last November for covering immigration and human rights in Cairo.

(Solafa Magdy/Credit: Pauline Beugnies)

(Solafa Magdy/Credit: Pauline Beugnies)

10. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia): Quest for government information persists nearly two years after journalist’s killing. 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 Saudi crown prince’s potential involvement. 

National Press Club to unveil Freedom Clock For Austin Tice on August 14

The National Press Club will mark the anniversary of the abduction and detention of award-winning journalist and Marine veteran Austin Tice on Friday, Aug. 14 by unveiling a Freedom Clock that will display a dynamic record of the time Austin has been unjustly detained in Syria. 

The Clock will be in the lobby of the Club which typically hosts 250,000 visitors a year for 2,000 events including the activities of the Club’s 3,000 members. 

View event details here

Amicus briefs support Committee to Protect Journalists’ appeal in Khashoggi lawsuit

Nearly three dozen media and press freedom organizations, as well as 10 major human rights organizations and experts, have signed on to amicus briefs in support of CPJ’s appeal in its lawsuit seeking documents on whether U.S. intelligence agencies knew of threats to Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before his murder by the Saudi government.

CPJ is suing for release of documents related to Intelligence Community Directive 191, which requires intelligence agencies to warn individuals when they learn of threats to the individual’s life or liberty. The defendants argue that to even confirm or deny the existence of relevant records would compromise national security, in what is commonly known as a Glomar response. The district court ruled for the defendants.

Read more

Reporters Without Borders concerned that visa review could force dozens of Voice of America journalists to leave the United States

Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the U.S. Agency for Global Media’s recent announcement that it will be doing a case-by-case assessment of at least 76 Voice of America journalists’ J-1 visa renewal applications, meaning they may be forced to leave the United States when their visas expire.

A spokesperson for USAGM announced on July 9 that the agency is assessing renewal applications for J-1 visas at Voice of America, one of the broadcasters overseen by USAGM. USAGM’s new Trump-appointed CEO, Michael Pack, allegedly signaled that he would not approve visa extensions. Sixty-two contractors and 14 full-time VOA employees currently working in the United States on J-1 visas are at risk of being forced to return to their home countries, where some could face retaliation due to their reporting. An unknown number of foreign journalists at USAGM’s other media entities are affected by this decision as well.

Read more

2020 US elections: Eight recommendations from Reporters Without Borders to protect press freedom

In response to attacks on the free press in the United States in recent years, Reporters Without Borders has introduced eight policy recommendations for the Democratic and Republican committees, presidential nominees and congressional candidates leading up to the US elections: 

  1. The president should address the public in the first 100 days in office affirming their commitment to press freedom. 
     
  2. Congress should hold a hearing with experts and relevant government officials on threats to U.S. press freedom.
     
  3. The president and Congress should guarantee the press has broad access to the executive and legislative branches of the US government.
     
  4. Congress should pass and the president should sign a federal shield law to ensure journalists cannot be compelled to reveal confidential sources or information in court.
     
  5. Congress should amend the Espionage Act to include a public interest defense and to ensure journalists cannot be prosecuted.
     
  6. Congress should pass and the president should sign legislation that would strengthen US foreign policy on press freedom
    .
  7. The president should prioritize ending impunity for crimes against journalists and redoubling efforts to secure the release of detained journalists globally.
     
  8. Congress should renew regulation of online platforms and amend Section 230 to promote reliability of information online.

View the full list

Reporters Committee, NPPA, CPJ to host training series for journalists covering 2020 political conventions

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association, and the Committee to Protect Journalists will lead a series of free training sessions for journalists covering the 2020 national political conventions from now until Aug. 3. 

Training makeup sessions will be offered the week of Aug. 3. Interested members of the news media can register for the free training sessions at rcfp.org/2020conventions.

Learn more

Committee to Protect Journalists joins letter calling on African Union to secure release of Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

The Committee to Protect Journalists joined eight other press and human rights groups in sending a letter to Cyril Ramaphosa, the chair of the African Union and the president of South Africa, calling on him to use all means available to secure the release of jailed Zimbabwean reporter Hopewell Chin’ono.

Chin’ono, an award-winning investigative journalist who recently covered alleged government corruption in the procurement of covid-19 supplies, was arrested on July 20 and charged with incitement, as CPJ documented at the time.

Read more

Journalist Patricia Devlin on working in Northern Ireland: ‘I feel vulnerable and I feel threatened’

Over the past two years, crime and paramilitary and sectarian attacks have risen in Northern Ireland, fueled by economic stagnation, a power vacuum in the regional government, and the fallout from Brexit, according to news reports.

In this climate, journalists are also increasingly at risk: freelance reporter Lyra McKee was killed in April 2019, and there have been growing reports of crime gangs and paramilitary groups threatening journalists, according to a joint statement issued on May 19, 2020, by the publishers of three Belfast-based newspapers and the National Union of Journalists.

In May 2020, in an unprecedented move, the Northern Ireland police warned several journalists working for the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers that a loyalist, or pro-British, paramilitary group was planning “imminent” attacks against them.

Patricia Devlin, an award-winning crime reporter working for the Sunday World, was one of them.

Devlin has covered crime, drug and criminal gangs, and how their activities are intertwined with certain loyalist paramilitary groups that as she says, “through intimidation and extortion often terrorize and keep some communities in their grip.” She spoke with CPJ via phone in early July 2020. Read the full Q&A.

International Women’s Media Foundation launches U.S. Emergency Fund for journalists

The International Women’s Media Foundation recently launched the United States Journalism Emergency Fund to support U.S.-based journalists in need. This opportunity provides support to journalists of any gender for immediate needs, including medical aid, protective gear and replacement of destroyed or stolen equipment, as well as long-term needs, including mental health services and referrals to legal support. 

Know a journalist in need, or one reporting on civil, political and nationwide unrest? Send them to the IWMF

Press Freedom Reads

India arrests dozens of journalists in clampdown on critics of Covid-19 response [The Guardian]

Kyrgyzstan must answer for the death of activist Azimjon Askarov [The Washington Post]

Seattle Judge Backs Subpoena for BLM Protest Photos [Voice of America]

DHS compiled ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents [Washington Post]

Brazilian Cartoonists Face Criminal Probes Under Bolsonaro [Voice of America]

Hungary’s Independent Press Takes Another Blow and Reporters Quit [The New York Times]

How the DHS Can Still Arrest Journalists in Portland [The Nation]

Faced with 2nd cyber libel suit, Maria Ressa says she will never delete tweet [Rappler]

Family of slain journalist want suspects returned to US to face trial [New Hampshire WMUR]

Events

International Women’s Media Foundation Press Freedom Speaker Series continues with photojournalism award winners: On Tuesday, August 25 at 10 a.m. ET, the International Women’s Media Foundation continues it’s widely attended Press Freedom Speaker Series with its 2020 Courage in Photojournalism Award winner and honorees joining together for a conversation on risk, equity and freelance work in today’s media environment – Masrat Zahra from Kashmir, Laurel Chor from Hong Kong, and Nahira Montcourt from Puerto Rico, will be live in conversation. June’s event with Judy Woodruff and Kim Wall’s family as well as July’s event with the editors of The 19th* are available now to stream.

Moral Courage In Challenging Times: The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation will host a virtual event on Wednesday, September 16, to discuss how the covid-19 pandemic, police brutality, racism and attacks against the press have impacted the work of leaders, advocates and the public. Join 2020 James W. Foley Freedom Awardees Anna Therese Day, Ali Soufan, David Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers and Jason Poblete, along with keynote speaker Admiral William H. McRaven. This virtual fundraising event, held in place of the 2020 James W. Foley Freedom Awards, will be moderated by Executive Director Margaux Ewen and include a special welcome from President & Founder Diane Foley. Proceeds will help JWFLF further its mission to advocate for the freedom of all Americans held hostage abroad and promote the safety of journalists worldwide. Learn more