JHR Executive Director Rachel Pulfer’s statement to the House of Commons on supporting journalists in repressive states

On Monday, March 28, 2022, JHR Executive Director Rachel Pulfer appeared before the House of Commons to share her views and recommendations on how Canada can effectively support journalists in distress.  Her statement will contribute to the Subcommittee of International Human Rights’ ongoing study ‘Human Rights in Repressive States: The situation of human rights defenders, journalists and media organizations’.

In the March 28 meeting, she was joined by other media freedom experts, including Rappler CEO Maria Ressa; IPEX Deputy Executive Director Rachel Kay; Mark Clifford, President of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong; actor and Amnesty International UK Ambassador Nazanin Boniadi, and Matthew Leung, former reporter for Ming Pao Daily, Hong Kong.

Read Rachel Pulfer’s statement below:

Merci beaucoup aux autres témoins pour vos perspectives y aussi les membres de ce comité pour l’invitation. C’est un honneur d’être ici avec vous et de partager quelques idées pris des situations et du travail des journalistes avec qui nous travaillons. Un petit moment aussi pour reconnaitre tous et toutes les servantes civiles qui travaille actuellement sur les dossiers pour aider les journalistes en danger. Je voudrais vous remercie pour cet travail dur et complique.

Je m’appelle Rachel Pulfer et je suis Directrice Executive pour Journalistes pour les Droits Humains, un ONG internationaux qui travaille parmi le developpement des medias pour aider les journalistes et promouvoir l’acces aux droits humains partout.

Journalists for Human Rights is a Canadian based media development organization that works to promote access to human rights worldwide.

We do this through strengthening media’s ability to cover human rights stories in places where commitment to media freedoms and human rights is fragile. Currently, we do this work across 17 countries, including Mali, Iraq and Yemen.

Over the past six months we have worked to evacuate journalists under threat from Afghanistan, which is the work I want to focus on in this discussion.

I wouldn’t be a good journalist if I didn’t start this talk with a story.

I’m going to share with you the story of Khatera Ahmadi, a female TV anchor with ZAN-TV. ZAN-TV was an all-woman television station based in Kabul. It produced news and feature content in Afghanistan up until August 15 of last year. After the fall of Kabul, Khatera and her colleagues went into hiding. They knew that as women who had had a high public profile, they would have targets on their backs. Journalists for Human Rights evacuated Khatera from Kabul in October 2021. Since then she has been stuck in Islamabad. As an Afghan refugee, every door is closed to her except the one she went through to get to Pakistan. When she arrived, Khatera was pregnant; within weeks she miscarried. Khatera desperately needs a permanent place to settle. Yet months of effort by a coalition of media freedoms organizations, including Journalists for Human Rights and the Coalition for Women in Journalism, has so far secured nothing. Khatera is just one of 500 journalists, women leaders, human rights defenders and their family members in Afghanistan that Journalists for Human Rights has worked to help since August 15.

In recent weeks JHR has been approached in increasing numbers by Ukrainian, Russian and Belorussian journalists – all in the same desperate situation. The reporting work they did before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has put them in danger. Many chose to flee. They need options – urgently.

Luckily you, members of the committee, are in a position to help provide them with options. So, I’d like to recommend that Canada take immediate, concrete action for journalists fleeing conflict and persecution, like Khatera, by creating an evergreen program of emergency visas for journalists. This is in line with recommendations from both the High Level Legal Panel of experts advising the Media Freedom Coalition, of which Canada is co-chair, and IFEX, from whom you are going to hear later in this discussion.

On media freedom and human rights globally, we’re seeing a global erosion in the state of media freedom through covid-19. The rise of authoritarianism threatens democracies and human rights worldwide. As Freedom House put it in their most recent report: ‘The global order is nearing a tipping point, and if democracy’s defenders do not work together to help guarantee freedom for all people, the authoritarian model will prevail.’

What can we do to roll this situation back?

Organizations like Journalists for Human Rights intervenes to strengthen independent journalists’ ability to cover human rights. Since 2016, starting in South Sudan, Journalists for Human Rights partnered with Global Affairs Canada has worked to strengthen the “enabling environment” in which journalists work.

This means media development work across government, media and civil society, ensuring society-wide support for independent journalists covering human rights stories. We also train journalists on how to safely call out and debunk the kinds of disinformation campaigns that Maria Ressa referenced earlier in the discussion.

Never has this work been more needed than right now. Earlier today, for example, Novoya Gazeta, the last independent newspaper in Russia, closed its doors, under pressure from Russian state censors. We need to ensure in the face of gross state repression, that newspapers like Novoya Gazeta are not censored and silenced, but rather find ways to live on. We need to ensure in the face of gross manipulation of information, that citizens in places like Russia and Belarus and Afghanistan have access to facts and truth.

The best way to counterattack the trend to authoritarianism and decaying support for human rights and liberal democracy is through support for independent journalism covering human rights issues. The best way to fight the state-sponsored lies of regimes such as Vladimir Putin’s is with facts and truth.

That brings me to my second ask – again, this is in line with IFEX’s petition to the Media Freedoms Coalition in February – calling on Canada to step up and put aside up to 1% of its international development support towards media development work.

This level of support is necessary in order to FUND the kind of holistic, sector-wide, networking and capacity building work that ensures those enduring conflict have access to reliable information about what is happening through the conflict and beyond – in particular information on human rights.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. On behalf of journalists and human rights defenders worldwide, your keen interest in these issues is greatly appreciated.

To view the full proceedings of the March 28 meeting of the Subcommittee of International Human Rights, please visit this link

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