An appeal for the absent: take action for journalists in prison

An appeal for the absent: take action for journalists in prison
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By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Steiger Fellow

On November 20, the Committee to Protect Journalists will be honoring four journalists from across the globe at its annual benefit in New York City. These journalists, winners of the 2012 International Press Freedom Awards, have placed themselves in peril and have risked their lives to report on the realities of their regions. However, two of the awardees--Azimjon Askarov from Kyrgyzstan and Dhondup Wangchen from Tibet--will be absent. Both are in imprisoned in their countries. CPJ has launched petitions calling for their release.

Askarov, a Kyrgyz journalist and human rights defender, is serving a life sentence in connection with his coverage of official corruption. His work, which has appeared on regional news websites such as Golos Svobody and Ferghana News, led to the demotion of several law-enforcement officials.

Askarov was taken into police custody while covering human rights violations during ethnic clashes that broke out in 2010. While in custody, he was repeatedly beaten before being charged under a series of anti-state crimes as well as with complicity in a police officer’s murder. His prosecution and conviction have been challenged by a range of human rights organizations as well as by the Kyrgyz government’s own ombudsman's office.

Nonetheless, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Prison authorities have confirmed that Askarov’s health has worsened. A letter from prison officials to Askarov’s lawyer, a copy of which CPJ obtained, said 61-year-old Askarov has been diagnosed with: cardio sclerosis, atherosclerosis of aorta and of his brain, coronary atherosclerosis, heart failure/cardiac distress, chronic gastritis, chronic cholecystitis, and pyelonephritis. His appeal was denied.

In neighboring China, Wangchen is serving a six-year prison term following work on his film “Leaving Fear Behind,” which documents the conditions faced by Tibetans under Chinese rule leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At least nine other Tibetan journalists besides him are behind bars, many on charges of inciting separatism.

Like Askarov, Wangchen’s health has been deteriorating in detention. He has contracted hepatitis B and has been denied medication, according to his wife, Lhamo Tso, who has been tirelessly advocating around the world for his release.

By supporting these two brave journalists, you are sending a message to governments and actors around the world that journalists will not be silenced. Even if muted, their readers and viewers will speak up on their behalf. Please join CPJ in this simple but significant call to action.

Sumit Galhotra is CPJ’s first Steiger Fellow. He has worked for CNN International, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch, and has reported from London, India, and Israel and the Occupied Territories. He specializes in human rights and South Asia.

Follow CPJ on Twitter: @pressfreedom

Follow CPJ on Facebook: @committeetoprotectjournalists

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