The ongoing risks to journalists and media freedom: a salient reminder on World Press Freedom Day 2024

Friday 3 May 2024

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) commemorates this United Nations World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2024, by reiterating the importance of protecting and respecting journalists and media personnel around the world, who risk their lives to keep the public informed and shed light on injustice. A free media is a central pillar of democracy, and World Press Freedom Day marks an opportunity to champion the vital work of journalists in holding truth to power and guarding human rights globally.

Every day, journalists – and those who defend them – face immense risks to their safety, and the safety of their families, on account of their profession. The number of deaths and incidents of violence, harassment, threats of arbitrary detention, censorship and intimidation among journalists as they pursue reporting are all increasing.

In February 2024, UN experts condemned the killing of more than 120 journalists and media workers covering the Gaza conflict since its start on 7 October 2023. Current reports indicate that the figure has risen to over 140 killed in the last seven months. To place the figure in context: In Ukraine, a total of 11 journalists have been reportedly killed since the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022 and the press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders tallied (with the caveat that media workers were not typically counted at the time) that 63 journalists died while covering the 1955-1975 Vietnam War – a period of 20 years.

2023 marked a particularly lethal year for journalists reporting in conflicts. More than 75 per cent of them died in Gaza. Many journalists have also been injured, some with life-altering injuries.

The IBAHRI is concerned that since 7 October 2023, 25 journalists have been arrested in Gaza, 19 of whom remain detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP). Also of great concern is the decision of the Israeli High Court in January 2024 to affirm the power of the Israeli military to exclude foreign journalists from accessing the Gaza region. This restriction of access significantly prevents journalists from reporting fully on atrocities being committed in Gaza, as well any further violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws.

The Israeli Court’s decision is indicative of a denigration of the role of journalists and prevents the world from seeing the true picture of events in Gaza. The IBAHRI has prioritised the issue of media freedom for many years and is only further compelled to draw attention to the crisis of silencing the truth in the face of grave crimes against journalists throughout 2023.

In international law, the right to freedom of expression is protected by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This comprises of three core tenets: the right to hold opinions without interference (freedom of opinion); the right to seek and receive information (access to information); and the right to impart information (freedom of expression). Journalists are also civilians and therefore, under international humanitarian law, cannot be subject to direct attack during conflict. Violations of this rule constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I.

Action is needed now more than ever to protect the safety of journalists and press freedom, and to hold their abusers to account. We should all feel any attack against a journalist for exercising their legitimate professional duties as an attack upon our right to know. A free media is integral to highlighting injustice and is indispensable in the fight to uphold human rights.

The persecution faced by journalists is not limited to times of conflict. The democratic collapse in Russia has seen journalists detained, including Vladimir Kara-Mura, who has been imprisoned for the last two years. Reports state that more than 1,500 journalists have been forced to flee Russia. However, even in exile threats remain, with at least 180 journalists found to have been targeted with Pegasus spyware, as part of a myriad of tactics deployed by States as part of a wider practice of transnational repression.

In March of this year, a presenter for Iran International Pouria Zeraati was stabbed in the leg in London outside their home as part of an unprecedented wave of transnational repression facing Iranian journalists operating in exile from London. This is a trend mirrored globally, with journalists in exile facing threat of violence, harassment, surveillance and unlawful deportation.

In 2023, the CPJ recorded the second highest number of journalists detained on record. China was named the worst jailer, with 44 journalists detained in 2023. In Hong Kong, the founder of shuttered Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai faces a lifetime sentence on spurious charges aimed at silencing his pro-democracy journalism.

On World Press Freedom Day, we reiterate the importance of the work of journalists in upholding democracy. The horrifying statistics of journalists being killed, injured and detained in Gaza, only further necessitates global action to counter the widespread targeting of journalists in an attempt to silence them. The IBAHRI remains dedicated to supporting the freedom of the press and advocating on behalf of journalists and media personnel at risk.

As journalists come under persecution, so too do the lawyers who represent them. Lawyers for the jailed Guatemalan journalist Jose Ruben Zamora repeatedly report a pattern of harassment, intimidation and threat of surveillance, which is echoed by lawyers representing journalists in many cases worldwide.

With news of UNESCO – the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization awarding its World Press Freedom Prize to all Palestinian journalists in recognition of their commitment and courage to media freedom as they cover the war in Gaza, the IBAHRI offers congratulations.

The International Bar Association Human Rights Institute


Contact: IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor 

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

Website page link for this news release:

Short link: www.tinyurl.com/3vvsz2vp
Full link: www.ibanet.org/The-ongoing-risks-to-journalists-and-media-freedom-a-salient-reminder-on-World-Press-Freedom-Day-2024