New Delhi: The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan is among the 17 journalists from 14 countries who are being presented the Deutsche Welle’s Freedom of Speech Award this year.
The announcement comes on World Press Freedom Day, and in the aftermath of Varadarajan having been served a summons notice by Uttar Pradesh police amidst a nationwide lockdown, over criminal charges for running a news report which mentioned that UP chief minister Adityanath had violated lockdown rules.
Since 2015, DW has presented the Freedom of Speech Award annually to a person or initiative that has shown outstanding commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in the media.
With the coronavirus crisis at hand, this year’s awards to the chosen 17 “represent all journalists worldwide who have disappeared or been arrested or threatened because of their reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic,” DW has said.
Like Varadarajan, this year’s recipients have been on the receiving end of varying degrees of harassment and action by authorities of their respective countries, who have cited the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic to justify their actions.
The 16 other journalists and their brief bios, as have appeared on DW, are:
Ana Lalic, Serbia
The journalist who works for news website Nova.rs was jailed for two days after publishing an article about medical equipment and protective gear lacking in the city of Novi Sad.
Blaž Zgaga, Slovenia
Freelance investigative journalist and member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Blaž Zgaga has faced harassment from the government and anonymous death threats.
Sergej Sazuk, Belarus
Online news Yezhednevnik journalist Sergej Sazuk was detained on March 25 and released on April 4. Officially accused of taking bribes, Sazuk had criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic before his arrest. President Lukashenko had said before that “one has to take care of media that reports on the pandemic.”
Elena Milashina, Russia
On April 12, the Russian investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta Elena Milashina published an article describing how Chechen authorities had responded to the pandemic. The following day Milashina received a death threat on social media by Chechen President Kadyrov himself.
Darvinson Rojas, Venezuela
Freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas was violently arrested, interrogated and imprisoned for 12 days after reporting on the spread of COVID-19 in Venezuela. He was allegedly charged with incitement to hate and instigation and released on bail on April 2.
Mohammad Mosaed, Iran
Freelance reporter Mohammad Mosaed was arrested in February after criticizing the government’s lack of preparedness regarding the coronavirus outbreak. According to the One Free Press Coalition, he has been barred from practicing journalism and authorities have suspended his social media accounts as he awaits his court date.
Beatific Ngumbwanda, Zimbabwe
TellZim weekly newspaper reporter Beatific Ngumbwanda was arrested on April 8 for violating the lockdown regulations. He was detained for several hours despite producing his accreditation card
David Musisi Karyankolo, Uganda
Bukedde TV journalist David Musisi Karyankolo was severely beaten at his home by security officers in early April, leaving him in a coma for ten hours. The men said they were enforcing the curfew. The police officer in charge was later arrested for allegedly assaulting the journalist.
Nurcan Baysal, Turkey
The award-winning journalist and human rights defender Nurcan Baysal is facing two separate investigations and accusations of “inciting public to enmity and hatred,” based on her comments on the authorities’ response to the coronavirus.
İsmet Çiğit, Turkey
The SES Kocaeli Newspaper editor-in-chief İsmet Çiğit was arrested in connection with a news report the newspaper published in its online edition on March 18 about two individuals in Kocaeli who reportedly died of COVID-19. He was subsequently released, the OSCE reported.
Fares Sayegh, Jordan
As one of Jordan’s leading media outlets, Roya TV has contributed to providing up-to-date information on COVID-19 and revealed deficiencies in the safety measures taken in the early stages of the outbreak in Jordan. Following a report which included interviews with citizens about the lockdown, Managing Director Fares Sayegh and a colleague were arrested on April 9 and released on bail three days later.
Sovann Rithy, Cambodia
TVFB journalist Sovann Rithy was arrested on April 7 because of “incitement to cause chaos and harm social security” by quoting Prime Minister Hun Sen who had said the government was unable to help motorbike-taxi drivers on the verge of bankruptcy. The Information Ministry revoked TVFB’s media licence and Rithy faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
Maria Victoria Beltran, The Philippines
On April 19, Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria Beltran was jailed for a satirical Facebook post she had published in relation to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City. The mayor called her post “fake news and a criminal act” and threatened that Beltran would be imprisoned.
Chen Qiushi, China
Chinese lawyer, activist and citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, known for his coverage of the 2019 Hong Kong protests, was reporting from Wuhan interviewing doctors and citizens before disappearing on February 6.
Li Zehua, China
Citizen journalist and former CCTV presenter Li Zehua disappeared in Wuhan on February 26 while covering the crisis. He reappeared on YouTube on April 22, saying he had been “quarantined and treated nicely by officers.”
Fang Bin, China
Businessman-turned-citizen-journalist Bin started reporting in his hometown of Wuhan in early 2020. One of his most famous videos showed several body bags outside a hospital. After several visits by the police, he disappeared on February 9.
With inputs from DW.