August in the Americas: A roundup of key free expression news, based on IFEX member reports.
This is a translation of the original article.
August has not been an encouraging month, with new attacks on freedom of expression coming from several fronts. This monthly summary covers the main events.
Mexico is once again occupying front page news owing to the out-of-control violence in the country. On 24 August, journalist Nevith Condés Jaramillo, director of the El Observatorio del Sur digital media outlet, was assassinated in Tejupilco, in the State of Mexico.
Condés is the tenth journalist to be murdered in the country thus far in 2019. It seems that protection mechanisms, the filing of reports and complaints, and alerts are not working. Systems of alliances between social organisations to protect journalists are also failing to make a difference.
According to the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual report, violence against journalists exercising their profession in Mexico and the impunity that keeps these crimes from being punished are among the worst in the world. The assassination of Condés “brought the number of journalists killed in connection with their work in Mexico in 2019 to at least ten, confirming Mexico’s status as the world’s deadliest country for the media,” reported RSF.
Condés was threatened in 2017 and again in 2019, according to local IFEX member ARTICLE 19. ARTICLE 19 and other Mexican organisations once against stressed the need for the government to take real and effective action to curb the wave of violence against the press. This coincides with recent reports by RSF denouncing “the absence of a strong reaction from the government.”
Brazil was also in the eye of the storm. President Jair Bolsonaro, without proof and not for the first time, accused environmental organisations of being responsible for the immense fires spreading in the Amazon in order to achieve political gains.
In addition to his tense relationship with his opponents, Bolsonaro’s behaviour with the Brazilian media has been appalling. He has been harshly critical of media outlets and journalists who oppose his administration.
This atmosphere of hostility is reflected in attacks that have been experienced by the Brazilian media, among them The Intercept – Brasil, which has been the target of discrediting and destabilising actions. In response, IFEX joined with RSF and other organisations to issue an international call for respect for press freedom in Brazil.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian Congress overturned a veto imposed by Bolsonaro that impeded the stiffening of penalties for disseminating fake news with intentions of gaining electoral advantages. As a result, the dissemination of fake news is now a crime punishable with anywhere from two to eight years in prison.
Edison Lanza, the Organisation of American States’ special rapporteur for freedom of expression, expressed his concern over the Brazilian Congress’s decision, which he said was “influenced by polarisation.” For Lanza, the criminalisation of a vague concept constitutes more of a threat to commentators and candidates than it does to a “diffuse enemy.”
The situation in Nicaragua continues to be very complicated. So much so that Edison Lanza and David Kaye, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression, issued a joint statement urging the Nicaraguan government to put an end to “reprisals against journalists.”
According to the statement, ”there are indications of ongoing systematic repression of the media, with journalists being silenced, assaulted and threatened with death […] Repression and violence against the media and human rights defenders have increased considerably since April 2018. The Experts are alarmed at the impact of this on freedom of expression and the closure of civic space at a critical time for Nicaraguan society.”
Meanwhile, Colombia is beginning to transform itself into a potential example for the region of how to move away from an environment of violence and impunity. To the resolution of Jineth Bedoya’s case, we can now add the case of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal, who was assassinated in 1998.
Carvajal’s case has been deemed a crime against humanity by the 95th Circuit Prosecutor’s Office of the Delegated Unit before the Bogotá Judicial District Superior Court. The decision was made a year after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held the Colombian State responsible for Carvajal’s assassination. The case represented the first time that an international court has condemned the actions of a State in a situation involving a murdered journalist.
This is just one example demonstrating the importance of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Another leading international body in the quest for justice is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The IACHR, which marks its 60th year in 2019, is a crucial actor in efforts to promote and protect human rights in the Americas. As such, IFEX’s explainer on how the IACHR can bolster advocacy work in the Americas is a valuable resource.
Edison Lanza visited Honduras at a time when the country is experiencing a deeply threatening environment, as demonstrated by state violence, criminalisation and setbacks to citizen freedoms linked to the approval and quick entry into force of a new Criminal Code. Lanza’s visit was coordinated by IFEX member C-Libre.
In the United States, IFEX member PEN America filed a court brief demanding the reinstatement of press credentials for a White House reporter.
The World Press Photo exposition, which presents the results of the annual photojournalism competition and highlights the work of photography professionals throughout the world, will be returning to Venezuela this year.