Solidarity in the face of oppression

In its annual round-up of violence and abuses against journalists, released on 15 December 2014, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that 139 professional journalists and 20 citizen-journalists had been forced to flee abroad in the past 12 months because of the threats to which their activities had exposed them. This was twice as many as in 2013. And the haemorrhaging continues. Dozens of journalists have contacted us in the first half of 2015.

RSF tries to help them by providing financial and administrative assistance. We also follow their odyssey through the institutions to which they turn in the hope of asylum or refuge, and we try to help these heroes rebuild an identity after being reduced to anonymity by their forced departure.

For these unwanted witnesses, flight into exile is often the only way to escape an imminent threat from governments or armed groups. Silencing journalists by forcing them to flee is now more than ever part of the repressive arsenal used by the media’s enemies all over the world.

The chaos in Libya and Syria and the political crackdown in Ethiopia – respectively ranked 154th, 177nd and 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 RSF press freedom indexdrove a total of 111 professional and citizen-journalists to flee abroad in 2014. Eritrea, Iran and Azerbaijan – three other countries ranked near or at the bottom of the index – were the other biggest sources of exile journalists in 2014.

Because of the scale of the phenomenon and assistance needs of the journalists driven into exile, RSF has joined forces in recent months with other international and regional NGOs that support journalists and human rights defenders.

RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) conducted a joint visit to Kenya from 5 to 10 October 2014 to meet the more than 20 Ethiopian journalists who have fled there to escape persecution in their own country. While there, RSF and CPJ also met with representatives of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Kenyan interior ministry, urging them to process protection requests from journalists quickly and to look at the possibility of their being resettled in a safe country without delay.After their joint visit, RSF and CPJ shared the information they had gathered about the material and financial needs of these journalists with ten or so partner NGOs so that all the journalists could receive adequate assistance. Many NGOs awarded assistance grants in the second half of 2014. In coordination with its own partners and in tandem with a follow-up visit by CPJ and the Rory Peck Trust in April 2015, RSF has supported 11 Ethiopian journalists financially in 2015.

After a surge in assistance requests from Libya, RSF participated in the creation of a forum for exchanging information and for coordination involving ten or so international and regional NGOs from September 2014 to February 2015. An online platform for securely sharing information about the assistance needs of Syrian journalists was also created in 2014. Such joint initiatives enable RSF and its partners to pool resources and thereby help more journalists.

At the time of writing this note, RSF and nine other NGOs that help journalists are closely watching the situation in Burundi, where a political crisis has been accompanied by serious acts of violence against the media. All of Burundi’s privately-owned media are currently closed and the government is tightening its grip on the state-owned national broadcaster. Many journalists have fled abroad while those still in Bujumbura continue to fear for their safety.