IAPA message on World Press Freedom Day
World Press Freedom Day*
Message from IAPA President Andrés García
Editor, Novedades de Quintana Roo, Cancún, Mexico
This coming May 3, the date dedicated throughout the world to the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, we citizens of the Americas unfortunately have little to celebrate.
Every advance in the area of press freedom in recent months, such as the passage of laws providing access to public records in Mexico, Peru and Panama, or the repeal of insult laws in Costa Rica, or the appointment in Colombia of special prosecutors to deal with crimes against journalists, are certainly events that at another time we could celebrate. However, they have been completely diluted by the campaign of oppression unleashed by the Cuban government against independent journalists and other political dissidents.
It is disgraceful that at this time in the Western Hemisphere there are still regimes that flaunt totalitarianism and jail their journalists and people in general for merely expressing themselves or owning a radio receiver or fax machine.
We cannot celebrate because 28 journalists are right now serving prison terms of up to 28 years in Cuban jails. Among them is a prominent poet and the regional vice chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information for the past five years, Raúl Rivero, who was arrested in Havana at the very time his report on the harsh plight of press freedom in Cuba was being read at our meeting in El Salvador in March.
Our work with Rivero and support for the creation of the independent press movement for a little more than a decade now is a clear testimony to the commitment IAPA has made to the promotion of press freedom in that country and the fierce battle it has waged over the last 40 years against dictatorship of thought.
We express our solidarity with the imprisoned journalists and their families and those who go to any length to continue reporting. But we also issue a call to the international community, because what is happening is the consequence of years of a half-hearted reaction toward the conduct of a government with a long history of being undemocratic.
What is needed is joint action and persuasion so that the exercise of liberty and press freedom in Cuba are not something granted by the authorities but that, as fundamental human rights, are part of the people's free self-determination.
Apart from the Cuba issue, and precisely because this World Press Freedom Day will have impunity as its theme, we must point out the other matter that shames us. In the Americas we have one of the highest rates of murder of journalists in the world. In the past 12 months, 11 journalists were murdered, nine of them in Colombia and the other two in Brazil.
Because of that, we are making even greater efforts, aimed at demanding that the authorities meet their commitment to investigate, punish and make reparations for such crimes.
Determined to put an end to impunity, we will continue asking, as fundamental principles, that no statute of limitations be applied in cases of crimes against journalists, that these be dealt with under federal jurisdiction, to speed up and ensure impartiality in the proceedings, and that international financial assistance agencies regard crimes against journalists as reasons for the review, suspension or cancellation of such aid.
We would also like citizens around the world to join us in this call. That is why we are launching an advertising campaign in our member newspapers and periodicals aimed at enabling all readers to join this campaign to demand a better administration of justice and greater respect for freedom of expression and the common good.
We have no doubt whatsoever that the defense, vigilance over and maintenance of press freedom and free speech is a day-to-day undertaking and also a task and a duty of every person.
Without press freedom and free speech there can be no free society. We are committed to this.
*World Press Freedom Day, which is celebrated each May 3, was declared in commemoration of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document containing principles for the defense of press freedom drawn up in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Miami, Florida, April 30, 2003.