‘Release Jailed Scribes’: Media Rights Groups to PM Amid COVID-19

At least five journalists, including Gautam Navlakha was arrested during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Journalism must not carry a death sentence,” wrote the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) along with 73 media and rights groups, urging the heads of Asian countries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to release jailed scribes amid the sweeping COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter was written on 27 April, as a part of #FreeThePress campaign launched by the organisation earlier this year. According to the their prison census conducted in December 2019, there were at least 63 journalists in prisons in Asia – including 48 in China, 12 in Vietnam, two in India, and one in Myanmar.

While five journalists have been released, four in China and one in Vietnam till 31 March, at least five more journalists including India’s Gautam Navlakha was arrested during the pandemic.

‘Freedom Now Matter of Life & Death’

Quoting the World Health Organisation, the letter said that imprisoned journalists are more vulnerable to COVID-19 as they would be living in enclosed environments.

“For journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care,” the media groups said in the letter.

Prominent co-signatories of the letter from India include Indian Journalists Union, Indian Federation of Working Journalists, Network of Women in Media India, Kashmir Working Journalists Association, PEN Delhi, Press Association and Mumbai Press Club, among others.

“Many of these journalists have been held in detention without trial for lengthy periods and are suffering from ill health exacerbated by underlying health conditions and overcrowded prisons, where they have contracted malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases,” the letter said, urging governments to release the imprisoned journalists.

You can read the full letter here.

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