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Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

  • Deborah Block

More than 220 journalists around the world are imprisoned for covering news and reporting information their governments may not like, such as stories on official corruption, political uprisings and pro-democracy rallies.

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them.

The campaign is called Press Uncuffed. It is selling clear, plastic bracelets, to represent the importance of the transparency of information. Each is etched with the name of one of nine imprisoned journalists:

– Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a reporter for an opposition newspaper in Uzbekistan, who has been imprisoned for more than 15 years

– Ilham Tohti, a minority Uighur economist and writer in China

– Bheki Makhubu, a magazine editor in Swaziland

– Mahmoud Abou Zeid (Shawkan), a photographer in Egypt

– Ta Phong Tan, an online blogger in Vietnam

– Khadija Ismayilova of Azerbaijan, an investigative reporter and a radio host for the Azeri service of Radio Free Europe

– Reeyot Alemu, a columnist for the leading independent weekly newspaper in Ethiopia

– Ammar Adbulrasool, a photographer from Bahrain

– U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian, a reporter for The Washington Post, who has been imprisoned for nine months in Iran, and just recently was charged with espionage

The idea for the bracelets originated with University of Maryland journalism students in a class focusing on imprisoned reporters overseas.

Lejla Sarcevic, who graduated with a master’s degree in journalism, is now the project’s campaign director.

“Imprisoned journalists around the world are often abused and tortured,” Sarcevic said. “I really want people to have a conversation about it and to raise awareness of it.”

Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said most of those named on the bracelets were incarcerated on anti-state or retaliatory charges.

“These journalists are primarily being jailed because they are critical, they are looking into the abuses of those in power, or simply trying to report on things that are happening in their countries," Radsch said.

According to award-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, “That includes pieces on the Internet, where governments are increasingly scrutinizing articles and other information. And then they're using those against social media journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists to stop them, to put them in prison, to exile them, to threaten them. That's happening in places like Ethiopia, Vietnam, places in Central America, China for sure.”

Priest is teaching the journalism class that developed the campaign.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said, over the past decade, the number of journalists being jailed has risen, especially in the past three years.

“Not just imprisoning but there are more journalists killed,” Priest said, adding that China holds the most, followed by Iran.

Press Uncuffed hopes its efforts will increase pressure on governments to release imprisoned journalists. The bracelets can be purchased online for $10. The money is being put into an emergency assistance fund to help journalists in dire situations.

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