Speech by Human Rights Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie at Free Press Live

Speech by Human Rights Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie, at Free Press Live, in The Hague, on 31 October 2019.

Honoring front-line soldiers in the battle for press freedom

Your Excellencies, incredibly brave journalists, distinguished guests,

Not so long ago, I attended a meeting of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), co-hosted by the Netherlands, it was about the safety of female journalists online.
It shocked me to hear from victims and experts how many female reporters are threatened or harassed online;
How they are doubly attacked – not only because they are journalists, but because they are women. 
Threats of rape and physical violence, and graphic imagery, show up in their inboxes, on their social media platforms as they go about their daily work.
Some don’t report this abuse because they are afraid or ashamed, or they want to protect their families. Others speak up and share their experiences.
For example, I remember the story of Jessikka Aro, an investigative reporter in Finland, whom I had the honor of talking to during the OSCE meeting.
In early 2015, Ms Aro identified a Russian online troll factory in St Petersburg.
After she reported her findings on a Finnish broadcasting network, she was mercilessly attacked by the same Russian trolls.
She was, they claimed, ‘variously in the pay of the CIA, Finnish security services and NATO’.
She was an ‘American propagandist, conducting information warfare against law-abiding Finnish citizens’.
She was a ‘threat to Finnish national security’.
And, on top of that, she was denounced as a ‘drug user, a drug dealer, a brain-damaged whore’ – or a combination of all three.
In fact, the trolls managed to incite hatred in so many people - who believed all the lies - that the Finnish police warned that Ms Aro faced a threat of ‘impulsive violence’ if she found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was partly for this reason that she left her home in Helsinki and moved abroad for a couple of years.

Excellencies, brave journalists, distinguished guests,
I’m telling you this because when this female reporter, Ms Aro, told me her story at the OSCE meeting, it reminded me how very difficult it is to ensure an independent, diverse, inclusive media landscape where journalists can do their work without any fear.
Journalists should feel safe, secure and supported in their work.
But often they do not. As many of you know better than anyone.
Every year, hundreds of journalists are attacked. Imprisoned. Or even killed, as we saw.
For example, if we just look at the list that the Committee to Protect Journalists published this month, we see the following headlines for October:
• Egyptian journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah arrested on false news charges and allegedly tortured;
• Syrian-Kurdish journalist killed in Turkish airstrike on civilian convoy;
• Radio Panic FM journalist found dead in Haiti following threats;
• National Geographic reporter wounded in shootout in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez;
• Blogger forced into psychiatric clinic in Uzbekistan;
• Indian journalist Ravi Prakash arrested after refusing to remove online interviews;
• Palestinian journalist Hani al-Agha detained by Hamas forces in Gaza since the 25th of September;
• In Honduras, attacker holds gun to head of Radio Progreso anchor Sandra Maribel Sánchez;
• Journalist Edmond Agenor Joseph shot by police in Haiti while covering protest.

And these cases of intimidation and violence are not the only examples on the October list of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
There were more.
And I’m sure that there are even more unreported attacks happening worldwide, in all corners of the world. Attacks that will never surface, or be recorded.
Attacks on people who search for the truth, and report what they find even though they know that they and their loved ones are vulnerable to fines, arrest, beatings, torture, rape and murder.
Because that’s the point, isn’t it?
This is about perpetrators trying to create a chilling effect.
It’s about fear of retaliation.
About other people, who want wrongdoing to remain covered up. Stories to go unpublished. And secrets to remain buried.
And the worrying thing is that this trend – this chilling effect – is increasing. It’s not confined to any one part of the world. It’s happening all over.
We can see, for example, that the number of countries regarded as safe countries – meaning countries where journalists can work in decent conditions and in security – is declining month after month, year after year.
We see that foreign leaders are alarmingly effective in silencing journalists.
And authoritarian regimes all over the world are tightening their grip on the media.
Making sure that, while information is a right in ‘theory’, it isn’t any longer in practice.
So around the globe, a relentless campaign is under way targeting journalists because of the fundamental role they play in ensuring a free and informed society.
And this we cannot allow to happen.
Because the public, all of us, have a right to know. Because journalists are the oxygen of free, inclusive, diverse societies. Because we have to honor the concept of truth itself.
Or, as Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, aptly wrote this year, and I quote:
“The media aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. We have blind spots. We sometimes drive people crazy.
But the free press is foundational to a healthy democracy, and arguably the most important tool we have as citizens.
It empowers the public by providing the information we need to elect leaders, and the continuing oversight to keep them honest.
It gives voice to the disadvantaged and doggedly pursues the truth to expose wrongdoing and drive change.
It bears witness to our moments of tragedy and triumph, and provides the shared baseline of common facts and information that bind communities together.” Unquote.
These words, distinguished guests, show exactly why we have to fight for those who can no longer speak up for themselves.
And why we have to demand justice for those who are penalised for having a voice.
Because when media workers and journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price.
That’s why I’m proud that my own country, together with UNESCO, will host the 27th annual World Press Freedom Day conference in the Netherlands, in April next year.
During that conference we will discuss how to safeguard independent and inclusive journalism. And we will issue a call to action, which we hope will be honored throughout the world.
But perhaps I’m even more proud, and humbled, to be able to present the Most Resilient Journalist Award in just a few minutes.
This award, after all, is dedicated to someone who has demonstrated extraordinary strength of character, courage and perseverance in reporting the news.
Someone who showed us the truth. Often the uncomfortable truth.
Excellencies, dear journalists, distinguished delegates,
All nominees are true front-line soldiers in the battle for press freedom.
Together, of course, with all those other brave journalists around the world who continue to expose uncomfortable truths, and continue to speak truth to power.
That is why I would like – before I present the nominees for the award - to end with a quote from Banu Güven, a female journalist from Turkey, whom I had the honor to meet at the same OSCE meeting I mentioned earlier.
This brave woman, who was harassed and threatened online, said, and I quote:
“I don't want to sound like a victim. That is very important to me.
We are stronger, much stronger than they could ever imagine.
They believe that those tweets and those online harassments – these threats – will make us stop writing and speaking the truth.
On the contrary.
We are getting stronger every day. No one should be subject to such threats.
I will fight against it. Until the end.
Until the very end”.
These are the words of Banu Güven.

Amazing journalists,
Distinguished guests,
I can only hope that this is what journalists will keep doing.
Keep fighting for the truth.
Keep reporting what you find.
Because we need you.
Society needs you.
People around the world… need you.

But now I won’t keep you waiting too much longer!
Let us get acquainted with the three nominees’ work!

Dear nominees, my deepest respect for your work.
All three of you are incredible photographers.
All three of you make the voices of the marginalized and vulnerable heard.
And all three of you have, each in your own way, shown great dedication to your profession in the face of real threats and challenges.
So you all deserve the highest praise.
But as you know, the award can only go to one journalist, and it is now my privilege to announce who it is.
The jury chose a brave, resilient journalist who impressed them with the great journalistic quality of their work, performed under extremely difficult circumstances.
In view of his extraordinary resilience, the jury has decided to present Ali Arkady with the 2019 Most Resilient Journalist Award!
Mr Arkady, could you please come forward?

Thank you.