INDEX ON CENSORSHIP | VOL.50 | NO.2
journalists, taking bottom position in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2021, below North Korea. The RSF report highlights that 11 journalists are currently imprisoned in Eritrea without access to lawyers.
Zere said: “Until I left the country, for the last three years I was always prepared to be arrested. As a result of that constant fear, I abandoned writing. But if I were able to secure such a visa, I would have some sense of security.”
Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is a journalist formerly based in Hong Kong who has recently moved to Taiwan. He has worked as an editor for the Hong Kong Free Press, as well as for the South China Morning Post, Time and The Wall Street Journal.
“I wasn’t facing any immediate threats of violence, harassment, that sort of thing, [but] the environment for the journalists in Hong Kong was becoming a lot darker and a lot more dire, and [it was] a lot more difficult to operate there,” he said.
He added that although his need to move wasn’t because of threats, it had illustrated how difficult a relocation like that could be. “I tried applying from Hong Kong. I couldn’t get a visa there. I then had to go halfway around the world to Canada to apply for a completely different visa there to get to Taiwan.”
He feels the panel’s recommendation is much needed. “Obviously, journalists around the world are facing politically motivated harassment or prosecution, or even violence or death. And [with] the framework as it is now, journalists don’t really fit very neatly in it.”
As far as the current situation for journalists in Hong Kong is concerned, he said: “It became a lot more dangerous reporting on protests in Hong Kong. It’s immediate physical threats and facing tear gas, police and street clashes every day. The introduction of the national security law last year has made reporting a lot more difficult. Virtually overnight, sources are reluctant to speak to you,
even previously very vocal people, activists and lawyers.”
In the few months since the panel launched its report and recommendations, no country has announced it will lead the way by offering emergency visas, but there are some promising signs from the likes of Canada, Germany and the Netherlands.
Report author Yeğinsu, who is part of the international legal team representing Rappler journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines, is positive about the response, and believes that the new US president Joe Biden is giving global leadership on this issue. He said: “It is always the few that need to lead. It’ll be interesting to see who does that.”
However, he pointed out that journalists have become less safe in the months since the report’s publication, with governments introducing laws during the pandemic that are being used aggressively against journalists.
Yeğinsu said the “recommendations are geared to really respond to instances where there’s a safety issue… so where the journalist is just looking for safe refuge”. This could cover a few options, such as a temporary stay or respite before a journalist returns home.
The report puts into context how these emergency visas could be incorporated into immigration systems such as those in the USA, Canada, the EU and the UK, at low cost and without the need for massive changes.
One encouraging sign came when former Canadian attorney-general Irwin Cotler said that “the Canadian government welcomes this report and is acting upon it”, while the UK foreign minister Lord Ahmad said his government “will take this particular report very seriously”. If they do not, the number of journalists killed and jailed while doing their jobs is likely to rise.
Rachael Jolley is a contributing editor to Index, and research fellow at the Centre for Freedom of the Media at Sheffield University
Ways of providing refuge for journalists
The top recommendations issued by the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute in their report on providing safe refuge to journalists at risk
1 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 is often done 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 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.