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The freedom of speech and the right to distribute information publicly is vital in ensuring a sense of transparency and honesty particularly in the world of politics, which makes the issue of protecting journalists and whistle-blowers such a fundamental task. Article 10 of the Human Rights Act declares the universal freedom of expression which consists of the right to free speech, press, and the ability to receive and distribute information without any unlawful interference from any governing powers. Particularly in the case of journalism, it is absolutely imperative to maintain the security of journalists because, without sufficient protection, the distribution of important sources and information may be obstructed from reaching the public through the press, which in turn inhibits the promotion of peace, justice, and order. Depicting the truth and exposing those who decide to take immoral and unlawful paths is a difficult job for whistleblowers who truly believe in what they are doing. It is important to note that whistleblowers play an undoubtedly important role in today’s society as the concept of “fake news” is on the rise along with instances of fraud, corruption, and deception. However, many whistleblowers and journalists around the world face great danger and security threats as the truth does tend to hurt those who wish to hide it, and in some cases that ends up being national governments.
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In fact, just under a year ago, on October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi was killed, chopped into pieces, and his body was completely cremated in an industrial oven in order to discard any pieces of evidence which could be employed against the perpetrators. But why exactly did this happen to Jamal Khashoggi, an innocent Saudi Arabian journalist and writer? In 2017, Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia due to growing disillusionment with the Kingdom’s government led by the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). In the United States, Jamal wrote numerous articles for The Washington Post condemning the Saudi Arabian government and particularly targeting MBS and the decisions he was making while in power. This alone classified Khashoggi both as a journalist and a whistle-blower who was exposing the wrong-doings of the Saudi Arabian government which he felt was acting in immoral and unethical ways. Thus, Jamal became a threat to the crown prince and just under a year ago, was assisted by a team of Saudi Arabians which were allegedly put to the task by MBS himself. This is just one example of hundreds of journalists and whistle-blowers who had been the target of violence as a result of their honesty. According to The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 94 journalists and media workers have been killed, while the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicates that approximately 251 journalists have been imprisoned this year alone. The security of journalists and whistle-blowers is clearly an issue that needs to be in the forefront of human rights debates and discussions as these are the people exercising their rights and freedoms in order to deliver news and information to those at home. Thus, the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers is without a doubt an issue of great importance as the right to distribute truthful information is a right that should never be tampered with.
Definition of Key Terms
An individual who performs the task of collecting, receiving, writing, and distributing different kinds of material relevant in the media. Journalists often appear on TV or in writing to portray different messages from sports and entertainment to world news and politics.
A person who takes action by exposing a wrong-doer who is guilty of performing immoral, unethical, and most importantly, unlawful acts.
One of the fundamental mediums of mass communication in today’s world-responsible for news, publishing, broadcasting, and live updates.
The inhibition of various forms of media (articles, papers, etc) to be published to the public as a result of being threats to national security, politically unacceptable, or inappropriate.
Dishonest behavior typically performed by those in positions of great responsibility and employ their power in fraudulent and inappropriate ways.
The process of lying or deception that generally consists of a long term goal of financial gain and economic success- tax fraud is a common example in which taxpayers lie about certain aspects of their finances in order to avoid paying a specific tax-illegal and considered fraud.
Freedom of Speech
The freedom and legal authorization to express one’s ideas, opinions, and feelings without restraint and/or interference from government powers.
Freedom of Press
The right and ability to distribute and publish information, news, and ideas freely to the public without any risk of restraint, censorship, or government interference.
Exemption from legal punishment or the consequences that come as a result of certain unlawful actions-generally given to those in high power-presidents, leaders, military officers, etc.
The freedom of expression, whether that be the freedom of speech or the press, remains the most fundamental human right out of all of those given to people around the world. The freedom of expression, as illustrated in Article 10 of the human rights act and amendment 1 of the United States Constitution will always be the facilitator in maintaining all of the other freedoms and human rights. Without the freedom of expression, specifically, the press, government infringements on other freedoms may never end up being documented and distributed to the public. With the freedom of expression, governments and leaders with ill-intentions end up becoming much more cautious as every minor mistake is documented and exposed to the public. So in the absence of the freedom of expression, the ability to engage in unlawful activity becomes much easier as the right to document it and publish it to the public is unavailable.
Thus, the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers can only be truly achieved with the implementation and enforcement of strict rules and regulations within the legal system that work to protect the universal freedom of expression.
Imprisonment of Journalists and Human Rights Activists
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), this year alone has seen the unjust and unlawful imprisonment of 251 journalists around the world, and counting. The incarceration of innocent journalists simply in the task of performing their duty has become a common occurrence throughout global politics as corrupt regimes and governments try their best to suppress the truth from coming out to the public, as it ultimately ends up tainting their image. In fact, the majority of journalist imprisonments tend to happen in the Middle East in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as they would like to eliminate the threat that comes from the voices of those who speak the truth about the corruption and fraudulent behavior of these regimes.
When the fundamental freedom of expression is protected strictly under a nation’s judicial and legal system, the ability to infringe on that basic human right becomes an almost impossible task. The imprisonment of journalists and whistle-blowers around the world often tends to occur in nations with little legal implications regarding the freedom of expression, speech, or the press. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists likewise published a report in 2018 which indicated that Egypt, China, and Turkey imprisoned the largest number of journalists. This may be the case for a variety of reasons, including the fact that Egypt and China specifically lack the legal system to impose freedom of expression. In fact, The Egyptian legal system includes a “Press Law” which states that any criticism of the president or legal authorities may result in fining or even imprisonment. Thus, as a result of a lack of legal prerequisites to protect journalists in Egypt, it can be very dangerous to express oneself, particularly if it is against the current regime/dictatorship of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. However, in the case of Turkey for example, the freedom of expression was limited to some journalists at one point in 2018 as a result of the attempted military coup against the Turkish leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In extreme cases of turmoil, the freedom of expression may be limited in an attempt to restore national security and prevent further escalation of national problems. Egypt on the other hand, took advantage of a lack of rules and regulations that protect the freedom of expression and ultimately journalists and whistle-blowers.
Egypt’s Specific Involvement
In 2018, Egyptian journalist Ahmed Mansour was imprisoned due to a series of tweets and comments written in opposition to the Egyptian and UAE governments particularly after the induction of Sisi as president of Egypt and the regional blockade against the state of Qatar which started on JUn 5, 2017. Mansour had worked as an anchor and journalist for the Aljazeera news network based in Doha Qatar and did not hesitate to express his personal opinions regarding the current political situation in Egypt. As a result, he became an immediate threat to the Egyptian government as he worked to facilitate resentment against the authoritarian regime led by president Sisi. Similarly, Salah Sultan, and active member of the Muslim brotherhood, an Islamic organization which supported past president Mohammed Morsi and showed immense resentment to the current military based leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as they felt he had unlawfully overthrown the former president and was guilty of tampering with the election results. Sultan, along with other members of the Muslim brotherhood also called for impeachment of the president as a result of the mass killings of protestors that occurred throughout 2013. Due to their resentment against the Egyptian regime, both Salah Sultan and Ahmed Mansour were imprisoned. Although Ahmed Mansour was eventually released, Sultan remains in Egyptian prison to this day.
Major Countries and Organisations Involved
The United States is considered one of the first nations in history to implement the freedom of expression as one of its fundamental freedoms and human rights. In 1787, the founding fathers of the United States formulated a list of rules and regulations now known as the Constitution in which a set of 10 amendments were established (the Bill of Rights) in order to ensure and protect the basic human rights and freedoms that the citizens of the US deserve. Nonetheless, up till this day, the United States remains active in promoting the freedom of expression, and continues to attempt to condemn authoritarian regimes that take away those fundamental freedoms deserved by all. When analyzing different extents of the freedom of expression, the United States is often looked at an example of complete freedom, in which journalists and whistle-blowers rarely have to worry about any repercussions for expressing their own political opinions or speaking the truth as they see it. In fact, major US online newspapers such as the New York Times and The Washington Post consist of a vast number of articles and publications directly condemning President Donald Trump and any significant move he makes. Writers and journalists can do so without the constant fear that encompasses those writing and speaking against their authoritarian regimes outside of the United States.
Similarly, the United Kingdom is taking direct and prompt action in an attempt to maintain the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers alike. The legal system in the UK does contain laws that secure and maintain the well-being and freedom of journalists in order to ensure the distribution of opinion and news to the public is kept. In fact, in 1998, the United Kingdom implemented the European Convention’s article 10 which states that the common law provides citizens the freedom of expression and the supplementary rights that fall under that category (speech, press, publication, etc.). The United Kingdom is also a strong supporter and endorser of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and publicly supports similar organizations that aim to develop and spread the fundamental human right of freedom of expression. Back in 2015, 67 journalists were imprisoned in the UK due to reasons that vary from hacking and data interference to unlawful payments.
The People’s Republic of China remains to this day, one of the major countries involved in the imprisonment of journalists who speak negatively about the government and/or leading officials. In fact, as indicated earlier, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report in 2018 which indicated that China was one of the top 3 nations that had the most journalists imprisoned, particularly for political reasons. This is a clear indication that the government of China is not actively working to protect the safety and security of its journalists and whistle-blowers, especially considering that these people tend to expose the wrong-doings of the government, and this becomes and inevitable threat to those in power.
The Egyptian government is widely known in the field of political science as an example of a military coup resulting in a categorically authoritarian regime run by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who a lot of media refers to essentially as a dictator considering the unchecked power the Egyptian military and himself possess. Egypt, like China is one of the nations that is notoriously known for the imprisonment of a large number of journalists along with whistle-blowers. Journalists and even human rights activists like Ahmed Mansour, Salah Sultan, and Mahmoud Hussein have all been imprisoned by the Egyptian government due to a lack of loyalty to the government and its policies and the publishing of articles that severely condemn and speak against those in power. As a result of the threat of these journalists, the Egyptian government felt the need to get rid of their voices and suppress the distribution of anti-government material. It is important to take into consideration the similarity between nations that tend to imprison (and sometimes kill) journalists and whistle-blowers, and that is the fact that these nations lack the appropriate legal system and judiciary system that protects the safety and security of these journalists and enforces one of the most fundamental rights, being the freedom of expression.
When the discussion of protecting the safety and security of journalists and whistle-blowers come up, it is difficult not to look towards the Saudi Arabian government as an intruder on basic human rights and freedoms, particularly those to do with expression. In fact, just last year, the Saudi Arabian government was involved in one of the largest human rights’ scandals of the year as the Kingdom under the leadership of Mohammed Bin Salman was accused of brutally killing Saudi Arabian journalist and writer for The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi. Under the Post, Jamal had written a number of articles condemning the crown prince himself directly as Jamal was dissatisfied with the types of decisions he was making after being given power from his father, the King. Nonetheless, much like Egypt, the Saudi Arabian government lacks the appropriate legislation to protect the freedom of journalists and whistle-blowers and thus provides for a hostile environment especially as journalists become a threat to the national government.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an American non-governmental organization based in New York with representatives around the world. Started in 1981, the CPJ works towards promoting the freedom of expression, particularly in the field of journalism which tends to be highly political and deals with sensitive issues. The CPJ often conducts studies and gathers statistics regarding the imprisonment and unlawful handling of journalists around the world. In fact, the official CPJ website contains a bar graph which indicates the number of journalists killed per year since 1992, and quite interestingly, this year has seen a minor dip in the death of journalists. The CPJ additionally works to provide live updates regarding the status of unlawfully imprisoned journalists and the extent to which journalists are being incarcerated around the world. With that in mind, it is important to note that the CPJ is undoubtedly one of the largest (if not the largest) organizations that are actively promoting the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers and enforcing the application of the freedom of expression.
Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ)
The Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, like the CPJ, is a non-profit and non-governmental organization that has played a major role in advocating for the protection of journalists and their respective freedoms. Similar to the CPJ, the CDFJ was established in 1998, and aimed to protect freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. Based in Jordan, the CDFJ strives to protect journalists and whistle-blowers from the tyranny of dictators and the actions of corrupt leaders. In doing so, the organization ensures to maintain neutral political views and stances as to focus solely on maintaining the freedoms of journalists who wish to simply spread the truth. The CDFJ as an organization is particularly important as it is based in the Middle East, and statistically, journalist imprisonments do tend to come from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. The main goal of the organization is to promote the establishment of appropriate legislation that legally protects the rights and freedoms of journalists and whistle-blowers.
Previous Attempts to solve the Issue
There have undoubtedly been a number of actions taken to help protect journalists and prevent the further incarceration of whistle-blowers around the world. The establishment of non-governmental organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) has played a fundamental role in the spread of awareness regarding the issue. Quite recently in the United States, the CPJ has been working to protect journalists; right to secure confidential information when passing through border customs and security. Dealing with customs officers at the border can be difficult for journalists considering the kind of info they may be holding, so protecting their rights to keep it confidential is vital for both their safety, and the safety of their colleagues and counterparts.
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However, it becomes very difficult for non-governmental organizations like the CPJ and CDFJ to operate particularly when it comes to international issues outside the United States. At the end of the day, not all nations have appropriate legislation that provides their citizens with the freedom of expression the same way the United States does in amendment 1 of the Constitution. So without the proper legal system to protect journalists and whistle-blowers, it becomes almost impossible to maintain their safety in a time when speaking the truth may become a great hazard to those who wish to express themselves. For example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia abstained from the United Nations vote which was for adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, consisting of freedom of expression, speech, press, religion, etc. Thus, the majority of previous attempts to protect journalists and whistle-blowers has consisted of a raising awareness type process in which the organizations spread information about how a journalist is being treated unfairly and through this consistent advocacy, direct action may be taken out of fear of public condemnation on the part of governments incarcerating journalists. It is also important to take into consideration the fact that this is also in itself seen as a dangerous process as nations may begin to feel as it their sovereignty has been intruded on from outside influences, and that stirs up the political controversy even more.
Without a doubt, the first step in ensuring the protection and safety of journalists and whistle-blowers around the world is to establish and implement an appropriate judicial system with laws and regulations that protect all human rights, but most importantly in this case, the freedom of expression. Without the necessary legal system, the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers becomes an almost impossible task considering the fact that each individual nation has its own set of rules and can act independently based on those rules. Additionally, attempts to intrude and change those rules may result in a threat towards a country’s sovereignty and can turn into a difficult situation.
Another possible solution is the development of an international humanitarian guideline that indicates the fundamental freedoms and human rights given to all people, and ensures the protection of those rights under the United Nations. This possible solution has inevitably already been thought of and is currently in work but the UN, but it is an increasingly difficult task as mentioned before. The possibility that every single country around the world would be willing to give in to UN international law is rather slim, but it may get to the point where nations must be faced with repercussions for human rights violations. It is important to consider the fact that so many human rights violations go by unnoticed every year, but no one is there to stop them or set consequences in order. Thus it is clear that there is a great need for change, and by supporting freedom advocacy groups such as the CPJ, CDFJ, and Reporters without Borders, we may become one step closer to ensuring the protection of journalists and whistle-blowers around the world.
The United Nations has strived to maintain the protection of journalists particularly through the establishment of treaties, declarations, and organizations that are actively involved in finding solutions to the issue at hand. Despite all the treaties signed and actions taken by the UN, it is clear that the issue of protecting journalists and whistle-blowers is still at hand and requires a great deal of further cooperation in order to help promote the freedom of expression.
● Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, December 23, 2006 (S/RES/1738)
● Universal Declaration of Human Rights
● UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity
● European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
● The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, December 18, 2013, (A/RES/68/163)
● Handbook for Journalists
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