22 June 2011

IFEX members pay tribute to journalists "in limbo" on World Refugee Day


Image from the cover of
Image from the cover of "Forced to flee but not silenced", RSF's report on exiled media
RSF
Nearly 70 journalists were forced into exile over the past 12 months, with more than half coming from Iran and Cuba, says a new survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The report is just one of the ways IFEX members marked World Refugee Day on 20 June.

Iran, which has waged a crackdown on the independent press following the disputed 2009 election, and Cuba, which freed journalists from prison only to force them to leave their homeland, each spurred 18 journalists into exile, says CPJ.

Cuban reporter Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, who served more than seven years in prison before being freed in September on the condition that he go into exile in Spain, said of his new home and status, "I feel unstable because there is nothing for us here... We don't even have our professional titles. We live in limbo."

Eighty-two percent of journalists left their home countries between 1 June 2010 and 31 May 2011 because of imprisonment, or the threat of being jailed, says CPJ. Another 15 percent fled following physical attacks or threats of violence.

Since 2001, when CPJ began keeping detailed exiled records, at least 649 journalists facing violence, imprisonment and harassment have gone into exile worldwide. Most of them (91 percent) have not been able to return home.

Iran joins four other countries - Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq and Zimbabwe - that together account for nearly half the total number of journalists driven out of their countries over the past decade. Not surprisingly, all five have long records of press repression, says CPJ.

For hundreds of journalists, legal hurdles, language differences, and the challenges of finding work in a new country can be devastating. According to CPJ, only 22 percent of journalists who have remained in exile are engaged in media-related work today.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) pays tribute to some of those journalists who defeated the odds and managed to continue their work as journalists while in exile. "Forced to flee but not silenced - Exile media fight on" looks at case studies of journalists from around the world who continue to report on human rights violations in their countries, whether it be Burma, Sri Lanka, Rwanda or Cuba, "to thwart the press freedom predators who took pleasure in forcing them to flee abroad," says RSF.

For instance, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), one of the most popular and influential exile media based in Oslo, have launched a "Free Burma VJ" campaign to press for the release of all the video-journalists (VJs) who have been jailed in Burma for providing DVB with video reports documenting tactics against ethnic minorities, the murdering of monks by Burmese troops and the ineptitude of the regime following cyclone Nargis in 2008.

The International Press Institute (IPI) also interviewed journalists in exile - all of them with connections to IFEX. Former head of the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka, Sunanda Deshapriya, who now lives in Geneva, and Soe Myint, who heads the Burmese exile group Mizzima News from India, discuss the challenges of integrating into their new countries, as well as the difficulties of supporting their families at home.

"Throughout these years, I along with many colleagues in Mizzima News have worked towards the directions of going back to our country one day to continue our work," Myint said. "We are always ready to go back to a democratic Burma."

IPI also spotlights Abel Ugba, who heads Exiled Journalists Network (EJN), an IFEX member based in London. EJN brings exiled journalists in the U.K. together and provides them with a platform to share experiences and advice, including the ever important tips on becoming a legal resident (which makes it easier to be reunited with their families), and how to get back into the journalism field.

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