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Year begins with full immersion in freedom of expression activism

The year has begun with a bit of everything as threats against press freedom and the right to freedom of expression are ongoing, as is our work in combating these actions.

Members of the press follow Counselor to US President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway while she speaks about a potential government shutdown outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, 19 January 2018
Members of the press follow Counselor to US President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway while she speaks about a potential government shutdown outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, DC, 19 January 2018

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

For years, the United States was an exemplary country in terms of freedom of expression in the Americas, not to mention the rest of the world. Organisations, media outlets and even other governments looked to the US as an example of democratic health based on the positive freedom of expression atmosphere enjoyed by both the press and US citizens in general.

More recently, however, this situation has been changing, and with the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House conditions have worsened, according to media and reports at the local and international levels. In fact, even Trump's fellow Republican Party members have asked him to stop attacking the press.

In a 16 January Washington Post column, well-known senator and former presidential candidate John McCain said that whether Trump knows it or not, his actions are closely observed by foreign leaders who use his words as an excuse.

Against this backdrop, IFEX led a mission to the United States, along with leaders from five other international organisations (the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and the International Press Institute), in order to gather information and testimonies about the situation.


Two strong blows

The beginning of the year also brought with it the loss of two indisputable and fundamental allies in the fight for freedom of expression.

On 17 January, Ileana Alamilla, a Guatemalan journalist, lawyer, human rights defender and activist died as the result of an embolism.

Holding a diploma in Intercultural Studies and an undisputed specialist in gender, journalism and human rights issues in Guatemala, Alamilla was executive director of the Centre for Informative Reports on Guatemala (Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala, Cerigua) from 1983 until her death.

In 2011, she was named a Messenger of Peace by the Guatemalan Culture and Sports Ministry in recognition of her journalism work in the process leading up to the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords.

Barely two days later after her passing, when the Latin American community was still recuperating from the announcement of Alamilla's death, more bad news arrived with the passing of Claudio Paolillo, another undisputed freedom of expression advocate, who had been battling pancreatic cancer for the last year and a half.

A former director of the Uruguayan weekly publication Búsqueda, Paolillo held several prominent positions with the Inter American Press Association. In these positions he fought against regimes with oppressive attitudes toward press freedom.


Amid bullets, democracy falters

Mexico was no exception in the bleak start to the year as assassinations and attacks continued against those who fight every day to access and disseminate accurate information, as well as against environmental rights defenders.

Guadalupe Campanur Tapia, a young activist fighting for restitution of communal lands in Cherán Michoacán, was murdered on the outskirts of Chilchota at the end of January.

A few days earlier, on 15 January, journalist Carlos Domínguez was killed in Tamaulipas when he was in his car accompanied by his daughter.

In Honduras the delicate political and social situation is translating into constant popular protests that are being repressed in an excessive and brutal manner by the government of Juan Hernández. This has led to at least 12 deaths to date, resulting in strong condemnation by the international community.

The IFEX member in the country is disseminating news of attacks on a near daily basis, both against civil society members and journalists who are trying to document the government's repressive use of force.

Brazil also had a poor start to the year. In just two days, two journalists were killed: Ueliton Bayer Brizon, owner of the Jornal de Rondônia news channel, and Jefferson Pureza Lopes, a programme host for Beira Rio FM radio.

Meanwhile, in Peru, a vehicle owned by journalist Juan Berrios Jiménez was set on fire at the door to his home. The journalist views the incident as an attempt to intimidate him.


Reports on gender and violence

In the midst of these attacks, our organisations continued their work of seeking to put an end to these types of actions by producing reports that allow for a deeper understanding of the roots of certain phenomena taking place in the region.

A report published by several organisations, among them our members ARTICLE 19 and Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights), explored violence against women in Mexico, going beyond the physical and face-to-face aspects. The report, entitled Online violence against women, reveals that in Mexico alone at least nine million women have been the target of cyberbullying.

And Derechos Digitales went a step further by conducting an extensive investigation, followed by the publication of a comprehensive report on gender, feminism and technology in Latin America. The study brought to light all the initiatives and projects touching on gender and technology that were developed in 2017 throughout the continent, with the objective of achieving an Internet environment that is respectful of women and where women can freely exercise their rights and develop themselves in an autonomous and integral manner.

Meanwhile, covering a different aspect, Reporters Without Borders' annual world-wide accounting of kidnapped, disappeared and assassinated journalists revealed something that Mexicans have the misfortune of knowing firsthand: a "country at peace" does not necessarily translate into a guarantee of safety for journalists.


In brief

The Paraguayan press welcomed a historic sentencing that resulted in a prison term for the mastermind behind the killing of journalist Pablo Medina. The news provided some degree of comfort in the face of 16 other cases of journalist killings where impunity continues to reign. IFEX is continuing to push for clarification of these cases.

In Bolivia, the National Press Association (Asociación Nacional de la Prensa) is predicting media outlet closures due to the imposition of government tax schemes.

And, in Argentina, the daily La Razón which is distributed free of charge, circulated its final print edition in a clear indication of the technological changes that are transforming society's habits and ways of consuming media.

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