November 25th, 2020
A new advisory report has found that journalists face unprecedented risks to their safety around the world, calling upon Media Freedom Coalition States to States to create an emergency visa for journalists at risk as part of its recommendations.
Every year, scores of journalists flee their countries to escape threats to their safety: threats that have arisen because they have performed their duties as journalists to report the truth according to Providing Safe Refuge for Journalists at Risk report published by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom chaired by Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney on November 23.
Leaving their home countries is often a last resort – the only way to escape politically motivated incarceration or violence. It is never a decision taken lightly, nor is it one motivated by a desire to relocate permanently, the report said.
The report examines the present situation faced by journalists at risk, by reference to a number of case studies and an in-depth analysis of international law. It finds that the current legal pathways open to the journalist who has been left with no choice but to seek to relocate to another country are, at best, slow and difficult to navigate and, at worst, cumbersome and ineffective. This is particularly so where the need is to move swiftly in the face of an imminent threat. Many journalists are, as the report shows, simply unable to move, with sometimes appalling consequences.
Case studies from Pakistan
In the case studies mentioned in the report, the panel highlights the two cases from Pakistan. In the first instance, the report notes that Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, ambushed in Pakistan by armed men and beaten due to his reporting on powerful military establishment, now lives and works in France. Secondly, the panel cites the killing of K2 Times and AVT television channel reporter Sohail Khan in 2018. Khan wrote a story about a drug mafia and started to receive threats to his life. He filed an application with local police requesting protection. However, after filing that application, he was shot dead while driving in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtaunkhwa province.
The report concludes that it is individual States that hold the keys to safe refuge for journalists at risk. It makes the following recommendations for States to adopt:
- States should introduce an emergency visa for journalists at risk.
2 In the absence of a journalist-specific emergency visa, States should commit to the expedited processing of visa applications received from journalists who are determined to be at risk.
3 In the absence of a journalist-specific emergency visa, States should provide an opportunity for journalists at risk making visa applications to provide information on issues of character and security that may arise (as often do for journalists subject to criminal investigation or charges for their work), and ensure that such visa applications are assessed fairly and accurately in the light of that, and other available, information.
4 States should commit to granting visas to immediate family members/dependents of journalists at risk who are granted visas.
5 States should issue travel documents to relocated journalists at risk if their home countries move to revoke or cancel their passports.
6 States should permit refugee protection visa applications to be made by journalists at risk, from within their home State.
7 States should make clear in their domestic law that journalists at risk can fall within the definition of a ‘refugee’ for the purposes of the Refugee Convention, or otherwise qualify for international protection.
8 INTERPOL should require States seeking the issuance of a Red Notice to specify whether the subject of the notice sought is a journalist and, if it is, INTERPOL should conduct a robust Article 3 assessment regarding that individual before reaching a decision on whether or not to issue the Red Notice.
9 Signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom should nominate ‘regional champion’ States, for two-year terms, to spearhead efforts in the provision of safe refuge for journalists at risk.
The report is authored by a leading international lawyer and member of the High Level Panel, Professor Yeginsu. The advisory report is directed to members of the 40 strong Media Freedom Coalition of States, led by the United Kingdom and Canadian Governments. The panel is independent of the government but has been tasked with providing advice to States that are committed to the protection of media freedom and the safety of journalists.