|Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, called on the OSCE participating States on 2 May to protect press freedom by curbing violence against journalists and abolishing undue restrictions on free speech and reporting. |
"In the past year, we saw a deterioration in two crucial dimensions of press freedom - the physical security of journalists, and the legal protections of critical speech," Haraszti said ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
Haraszti said he was alarmed that violence targeting journalists in several OSCE countries was rising, and that such actions were conducted with impunity which he said had resulted in "censorship by violence". He called on governments to get tougher on those who intimidate journalists.
"In revenge for critical coverage, or because of attempts to prevent it, journalists have suffered physical violence ranging from beatings to murders in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," he said.
"Violence against journalists is not 'crime as usual' because it is meant to undermine a basic institution of democracy - the free press.
"Those who issue fatwas calling for murder of journalists and artists, and those who contract murders of reporters should belong to the same category of offenders. Both pursue the same goal: silencing the press by violence."
He also called on governments to protect the safety of journalists by effectively assisting them as they cover demonstrations, including unsanctioned ones.
Arbitrary, politically motivated restrictions on dissenting or offensive speech also endanger media freedom, Haraszti said.
"They range from labelling as 'extremist' the reporting, debates, or criticism on controversial issues - which we have seen in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Tajikistan - to criminalization of historical or religious disputes, which we have witnessed in Azerbaijan, Switzerland and Turkey."
"This is in addition to the criminalization of 'defamation' and 'breach of secrecy', which still continues to harm professional journalism in many countries," he said.
Haraszti urged governments to abstain from arbitrary restrictions on discourse in society.
"All tailor-made criminalization of speech content must be abolished. This includes the special bans on historical debates, as well as blasphemy. Anti-terrorism and extremism laws must not be used to punish offensive or critical speech," said Haraszti.
"Actual incitement to criminal actions should be punished, but broad protection must be granted to political speech, to the right to discuss, dissent, and even deride, all of which are crucial in democratic societies."
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