AHRC TV: World Press Freedom Day and other stories in JUST ASIA, Episode 169

This week Just Asia focuses on World Press Freedom Day, annually celebrated on May 3. The day is marked by celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom, assessing the state of these freedoms globally, and paying tribute to those journalists who have lost their lives supporting a free press.

In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders reveals that press freedoms are deteriorating globally. The Asian region continues to fare badly, with notably big falls registered by Thailand and Cambodia. Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh are some of the worst countries in the world to be a journalist, while China and Vietnam have the largest prisons for journalists and bloggers.

In Indonesia, journalists from around the world attended World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta this year, held between May 1 to 4. Press freedom is still a serious problem in Indonesia, and there were calls from various parts of the country for the government to protect journalists and investigate violations against them. Just Asia speaks to journalist Tommy Apriando for his thoughts.

India has slipped three places in the World Press Freedom Index, ranking 136 out of 180. India’s slip is not surprising given the current climate of nationalism, cyber bullying and vigilante justice. The past year has seen Hindu nationalists attempt to vilify all opposing and critical thought with the ‘anti-national’ label.

China’s continuing crackdown on lawyers and activists is worrying, and underlines the country’s low ranking of 176 out of 180 countries. Last week, Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping was convicted of “subversion of state power” at a secret trial. He has been sentenced to three years in prison with a four-year reprieve. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Xi Jinping is “the planet’s leading censor and press freedom predator”.

In Sri Lanka, although current President Sirisena promised to open investigations into attacks on journalists after being sworn in in 2015, there has been very little progress into the cases of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Prageeth Ekneligoda and other journalists. Meanwhile, the Counter Terrorism and Media Council Bills currently being processed are likely to further restrict media freedom in the country.

Pakistan ranks 139 in the Press Freedom Index, while ranking among the bottom 10 countries for supporting free speech in the global index by Pew Research Centre. 2017 has seen two journalist deaths so far. There has also been a dramatic rise in censorship in both electronic and print media under the pretext of national security and blasphemy.

Finally, the Urgent Appeals Weekly features one case from Indonesia.

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