WASHINGTON – Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a press statement recognizing World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2015 and a Congressional Record statement, both of which appear below.
“On World Press Freedom Day 2015 we celebrate the value of freedom of press and the critical role it serves in creating a free and open society. In its highest forms, the press does not simply inform, but brings attention to atrocities around the world, provides checks on authoritarian governments and catalyzes better governance.
“We also honor all journalists who have been imprisoned or killed while seeking to tell a story that deserves to be told and needs to be heard. Reporters and journalists have increasingly become the targets of oppressive governments and terrorist organizations intent on silencing their voices.
“Just this past year, we have witnessed the arrest of the Zone 9 Bloggers in Ethiopia and the continued imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian on unlawful espionage charges in Iran. As witnesses, we have a responsibility to stand up against injustice, to tell the stories of these brave journalists and to work to secure their freedom.
“It is for this reason that the United States and governments around the world must recommit themselves to protecting press freedom and the vital role it plays in enabling democracy to flourish and good governance to prevail.”
Statement for the Record
Ranking Member Ben Cardin on World Press Freedom Day 2015
I rise today in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 2015 on May 3, 2015 – a day reserved to celebrate the value of freedom of press and the critical role it serves in creating a more free and open society. In its highest forms, the press does not simply inform, but brings attention to atrocities around the world, provides checks on authoritarian governments and catalyzes better governance.
The United States has recognized the great value of freedom of the press from its inception and in its Declaration of Universal Rights, the United Nations acknowledged the profound role of this fundamental right. On May 3, 1991, in the Windhoek Declaration, the UN recommitted itself to this important cause with a call to arms to protect the right of the press “to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
A pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy as well as economic development. According to Freedom House’s 2014 Freedom of the Press Index, only 14 percent of the world’s citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press. In every other corner of the world, freedom of the press is threatened by governments that want to restrict freedom of expression and association by harassing and intimidating journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, 69 journalists and 19 citizen journalists were killed in 2014 in connection with their collection and dissemination of news and information, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, found that in that same year the 3 deadliest countries for journalists on assignment were Syria, Ukraine, and Iraq. Today we honor all journalists who have been imprisoned or killed while seeking to tell a story that deserves to be told and needs to be heard.
The weekend of April 25th marked the one year anniversary of the arrest of three independent journalists, and six bloggers in Ethiopia known as the “Zone 9 bloggers.” The reporters, who published articles criticizing the government, have been charged under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, seemingly in connection with their writings. They remain in jail to this day, their trial once again postponed until after the Ethiopian elections. Unfortunately, this sort of imprisonment is not an isolated incident in Ethiopia. According to Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia has the second largest number of journalists in exile and the largest number of imprisoned journalists and bloggers in all of sub-Saharan Africa.
I and a number of my colleagues wrote Secretary Kerry in March about our ongoing concern with efforts by the Ethiopian government to restrict freedom of speech and association in Ethiopia. In recent months numerous media publications have closed amid widespread harassment and the Ethiopian government continues to control most television and radio broadcasting content. Today, I again urge the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press – especially in advance of the May 24 elections. Anti-terrorism laws must not be used for political gain or to stifle the expression of dissenting political views
The continued imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who remains in Iran on alleged espionage charges, is another example of the immense duress that journalists around the world endure. Mr. Rezaian, an esteemed and respected professional journalist, has been imprisoned in Tehran since July 22. As the United States and Iran continue to negotiate a nuclear agreement, it is important that we not forget about Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American that deserves to be free.
And finally, the world will never forget the brutal and barbaric murder of American reporter James Foley by the Islamic State this past summer. His death reminds us that it is not only oppressive governments that threaten journalists, but terrorist organizations as well. Foley’s life’s work chronicling the war torn countries of Afghanistan and Syria speaks to a deep commitment to the truth, a desire to tell the story of the world’s most vulnerable and the right to freedom of the press even in the gravest of circumstances. This is what freedom of the press is all about.
As witnesses to the good that free press provides to society and the threat that it faces, we have a responsibility to stand up against injustice, to tell the stories of these brave journalists and others in the hopes of securing their freedom and preventing future tragedies from occurring. As George Mason said in 1776, “The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.” On World Press Freedom Day 2015, the United States and governments around the world must recommit themselves to protecting press freedom in order to enable democracy to flourish and good governance to prevail.