Late last year, three journalists working for Al Jazeera in Cairo were arrested and charged with terrorism and smearing Egypt’s reputation. The three men – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed – are still in jail. They are not alone: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2013 was the second worst year on record for journalists imprisoned. I co-wrote an article for Al Jazeera, marking World Press Freedom Day, looking at cases of journalists – across the world – jailed for doing their jobs.
“Imprisonment can be through the explicit criminalisation of free speech – through, for instance, defamation laws – or through other charges like spying or drug trafficking,” explains Melody Patry, advocacy officer at Index on Censorship.
One allegation used frequently by authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage is that such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists logged by CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism” – many more than for charges such as defamation or libel. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all.
The Syrian refugee crisis has been described as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, with 6.5 million internally displaced and more than 2 million seeking refuge abroad. The UK has been reluctant to offer sanctuary to a significant number of refugees, a decision that should be seen in the context of a dominant anti-immigrant political mood. While the British government has agreed to rehome 500 Syrian refugees, a small number have claimed asylum here already. Two of them told me their stories.
Ruqaiya was in her final year of university when she realised she couldn’t go home. In London on a student visa, she had missed the worst of the fighting in her hometown of Damascus: after the revolution began in March 2011, her family had told her not to come back for the holidays.
In May 2012, gearing up for her exams, she received terrible news. “My brother, who works in Germany, called to say that our father had been killed in an airstrike and the house destroyed. My mother had fled with my aunt to Jordan. Suddenly I didn’t have a home.” On the advice of an uncle living in the UK, Ruqaiya claimed asylum.
You can read the full article over at the New Statesman website, and here’s the (shorter) version that appeared in the magazine: