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Rights Advocates Warn of Threats to Press Freedom, Democracy


A journalist wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against COVID-19 looks at her mobile phone next to a TV monitor showing a speech by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet during World Press Freedom Day in Geneva, May 3, 2022.

At a special event Tuesday to mark World Press Freedom Day, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet paid tribute to the courage and determination of journalists who continue to work in the face of ever-increasing harassment, intimidation, and risks to their lives.

Bachelet noted that last year, 55 journalists were killed. This year, she said, six journalists and one media worker have been murdered in Mexico and another 12 journalists have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded that country on February 24.

She warned that the rising use of surveillance tools, such as the Pegasus or Candiru spyware, intrudes deeply into people's devices and lives.

"The use of spyware has led to arrests, intimidation and even killings of journalists. It has endangered their sources. It has put their families at risk. To counter these risks, journalists are often forced to take the dangerous path of self-censorship," Bachelet said.

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, also attended Tuesday's event. He said Russia faces a broken future because of President Vladimir Putin. He said the destruction of independent media under Putin's rule, and propaganda against Ukraine, have been crucial in triggering the Russian invasion.

"What sets this war apart is that it is the first war in the world, which we watch in digital format," Muratov said through an interpreter. "From now on and forever, for the rest of the human history, when you type the words Mariupol or Bucha in a search engine, we will see a destroyed city and killed people."

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, right, films with her mobile Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov as he speaks during World Press Freedom Day in Geneva, May 3, 2022.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, right, films with her mobile Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov as he speaks during World Press Freedom Day in Geneva, May 3, 2022.

Co-laureate of last year's Nobel Peace prize, Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, agreed the suppression of facts by Putin has made it possible for him to wage war in Ukraine.

"Without facts you cannot have truth," she said. "Without truth you cannot have trust. Without trust we have no shared reality. No rule of law. No democracy. Journalists, human rights defenders — anyone under attack, anyone can be targeted. We are all defenseless in information warfare."

Ressa said propaganda plays on the fears of people and presents lies as facts. And, she said, people who believe lies are facts, are people who can be controlled. It is when facts are destroyed that democracies are destroyed, she warned.

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