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World Marks Press Freedom Day

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech during a World Press Freedom Day ceremony in Yangon, May 3, 2015.
Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech during a World Press Freedom Day ceremony in Yangon, May 3, 2015.

Sunday is World Press Freedom Day, an annual observance established by the United Nations in 1993 to support and celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, which President Barack Obama has described as vital to democracy.

The U.N. said World Press Freedom Day is also an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even killed.

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, Obama met at the White House Friday with three immigrant journalists. He said all three faced harsh treatment in their home countries and are now continuing their journalistic endeavors in the United States where they were granted political asylum.

Immigrant journalists

Dieu Cay from Vietnam is a blogger who has written extensively on human rights and religious freedom and is a leading voice for press freedom in his county. He spent six years in prison and was released last October.

Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia has written to expose the marrying off of young girls as child brides in her country. She was harassed and detained and now works for the National Endowment for Democracy. She worked as a translator for a VOA correspondent in Ethiopia and was detained with him for "illegal reporting" in 2012 in Addis Ababa.

Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, works for the Voice of America’s Russian Service.

Obama said, “She reported on military operations in the North Caucasus region, as well as disappearances and corruption. She was attacked, kidnapped, tortured herself. Today, she reports for the Voice of America and most recently has spent time reporting on the Boston trials related to the Boston bombing.”

After returning to VOA following the meeting with Obama, Tlisova said the opportunity to meet and speak with the president was indeed a moving experience, but above all the importance of it was the message that the president of the United States sent to journalists in Russia.

“Because killing journalists, arresting journalists, intimidating journalists is not just a punishment, it is an act of sending a message to all other journalists,” she said, a harsh treatment that has contributed to increase of self-censorship.

Press freedom index

The 2015 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information. Reporters Without Borders, the sponsor of the index, said the index "highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information.

The group said "media freedom is in retreat on all five continents."

Finland tops the World Press Freedom Index for the fifth straight year. Two other Scandinavian countries – Norway and Denmark – follow Finland.

At the bottom of the list as the worst performers are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, which is in last place - number 180.

The United States comes in at number 49, with Britain number 34 and Japan is 61.

Toward the bottom of the index are Afghanistan at 122, Zimbabwe at 131, Cuba at 169 and China is ranked at number 176.

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    VOA News

    The Voice of America provides news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of over 326 million people. Stories with the VOA News byline are the work of multiple VOA journalists and may contain information from wire service reports.