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This world is not a safe place for journalists

June 1, 2021 at 3:52 pm

People hold posters during a rally in defence of freedom of speech and journalism in central Moscow on June 16, 2019 [YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images]

Be careful please … if you are a journalist, then your life is in serious danger.

Dear reader, this article is not meant to trigger feelings of pessimism or spread panic, fear, and anxiety, but it is rather an acknowledgement of a fact and an assertion of an unfortunate reality experienced by millions of journalists around the world on a daily basis.

To feel safe after being pursued and chased for a long time by the police is a big deal. When circumstances and fate lead you to work in the field of journalism, and you start writing about corruption in your homeland and criticising the government, and then you let your pen lead you too far until you dare to reproach the head of state. At that point, they arrest you and oppress you. So you find yourself forced to leave your country in search of a safe haven where you can practice journalism and feel secure to close your door and sleep peacefully for the first time in your life.

Once deluded by this fake sense of security, you decide to travel from one country to another. But you wake up one day to find your worst nightmares have materialised before your eyes, and you find yourself arrested again in your home country. You are Roman Prosatevich.

It took me days to be able to write about this young journalist who is ten years younger than me. Roman Prosatevich is a journalist from Belarus who managed to lead the public opinion of the opposition in the country and motivate the masses to demonstrate in the squares and streets against Alexander Lukashenko.

But to the journalist’s surprise, a warplane intercepted the Irish airline flight he was travelling from Greece to Lithuania on, and cost him his freedom once again. He lost that sense of security he felt and went back to a life of oppression, imprisonment in a dungeon under the dictator’s regime.

In February 2018, I was heading from Istanbul to London to spend a short holiday with my wife. The officer at passport control at Ataturk airport arrested me and cancelled my trip. I was held for half an hour in a room where I was told that the Egyptian Interpol has submitted a report against me and I should be handed over to the Egyptian authorities immediately.

After a lengthy negotiation and many phone calls, the officer was persuaded and told me that he would allow me to travel to London, but I could not return to Turkey, which meant that I needed to apply for political asylum in the UK. Later, I obtained a British residence permit.

READ: Agence France Presse fires Palestinian journalist in West Bank

We thought we were living in security and freedom in the country of asylum. But what happened to Prosatevich woke me up and alerted me once again that I could not enjoy full safety as long as I am a journalist. Recently, I met a young journalist in London, who introduced himself as the son of one of Malta’s most prominent journalists, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in October 2017 after a bomb was placed under her car. Galizia was killed, according to her son, due to her investigative work aimed at exposing state officials’ involvement in corruption and contributing to the leaks of the Panama Papers.

Protesters hold pictures of the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Valletta, Malta on November 20, 2019 [MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Protesters hold pictures of the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Valletta, Malta on November 20, 2019 [MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP via Getty Images]

Galizia’s assassination prompted her son Paul to enter the world of journalism by publishing an investigation into his mother’s murder, which won him an international award for best investigative work.

As a journalist working abroad, circumstances may lead you to seek help from your country’s embassy to obtain official documents to renew your passport or issue a marriage certificate. You could end up strangled, chopped into pieces, melted by acid, and no one knows where your body is, like the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

You may become overwhelmed with despair and frustration in exile and decide to return to your country without prior notice. You will end up being arrested when you arrive at the airport, like the Egyptian journalist Jamal Al-Jmal, who was arrested by Egyptian authorities when he arrived at Cairo airport, on the grounds of fabricated cases.

Your journalistic work does not have to be about corruption or leaks about state officials to face threats. You only have to be a journalist to be targeted, as in the case of Spanish journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, who were killed in Burkina Faso at the hands of terrorists who targeted an anti-poaching patrol.

Nowadays, we live in a world ruled by thugs, where no one respects international laws, agreements, and charters, thanks to Donald Trump, the man who established and enshrined this principle worldwide. Whoever has power shall do whatever he/she wants and no one will hold him/her accountable as long as he/she has money and international connections to help him/her conceal the crime.

The United States is no longer the power that everyone fears, and the European Union has been divided after Brexit. On the other hand, Eastern European countries are feeding off the principles of Russian gangsters, and in Asia, no voice is louder than the voice of Chinese oppression and abuses committed by the authorities against everyone; mainly journalists.

READ: Israel continues to harass Palestine journalists

I have made a decision, which I recommend to many of my colleagues. Do not travel, do not move around a lot, and if necessary, avoid trips that may involve crossing the airspace of your home country. I have compiled a list of places where journalists are not allowed to go travel for the time being. Do not go to airports, do not enter your countries’ embassies, and do not travel to Arab countries or countries that have joint security arrangements with your homeland’s authorities.

Yes, this world is not a safe place for journalists, but we will not stop. We will not feel completely safe, but our words will never leave rulers and corrupt people to act in peace.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 31 May 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.