THE INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility unequivocally condemns the arrest and continued detention of Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam, the issuing of a non-bailable arrest warrant to Pakistani journalist Cyril Almedia, the conviction of two Myanmar journalists, U Wa Lone and U Kyaw Soe Oo, and the enforced disappearance of Maldivian blogger Ahmed Rilwan.
Cyril Almeida, who works at Dawn newspaper, is being hauled up for an interview with Nawaz Sharif, in which the former Prime Minister made remarks that were interpreted in India as a tacit admission that the Pakistan security establishment was behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The warrant against Almeida is for a summons to him to appear before the Lahore High Court, which is hearing a case of treason against Sharif.
The 63-year-old Shahidul Alam, an internationally reputed photojournalist, was taken into custody on August 5 this year under the draconian Information Technology Act for “damaging the image of the nation.” He is alleged to have done this by giving an interview to Al Jazeera on the strike by students in Dhaka following a bus accident. There appears to be a deliberate attempt to keep him inside a jail, given the fact that at least twice his bail applications were the last item on the agenda – and was not taken up on two separate occasions.
The two Myanmar journalists, working for Reuters, were on trial for almost nine months in a case that even a police officer, testifying before the court, said was a set-up. At the time of their arrest, the two were working on an investigation that revealed that the Myanmar shot dead 10 Rohingya in cold blood at a village in northern Rakhine. Their conviction highlights the perilous conditions under which Myanmar’s journalists work.
Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla. A popular Maldivian blogger, disappeared in 2014. President Yameen Abdulla, who just lost an election, showed no urgency in getting to the truth of the disappearance, and this has had a chilling effect on the media in Maldives.
The Editors Guild of India, Human Rights Watch and other civil society organizations have expressed concerns about the freedom of the media.
Across the region, journalists are being intimidated, harassed and arrested just for being journalists. The trend must not be left unchallenged.
Freedom of the media is embedded in the concept of democratic freedoms. This Symposium demands the release of all journalists held under various pretexts across the region, and urges the governments to recommit themselves to media freedom as an inalienable part of democratic norms and values.