Journalism has long been a risky profession, but the COVID-19 pandemic has provided many governments with an excuse to step up its crackdown on journalists who counter government rhetoric about the virus and their handling of the pandemic.1,2
Globally, at least 14 journalists have been arrested for “unfair and imprecise coverage” of the pandemic.3 Courtney Radsch, advocacy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told US News4 that “COVID is a very practical excuse to target journalists that regimes did not like before.”
Information War 2020
According to two media rights groups – CPJ5 and Reporters Without Borders6 – China tops the list of countries where the repression of journalism takes place. Globally, 387 journalists were detained in 2020, two fewer than those detained in 2019. Among them, 54 are being held hostage and four are missing in action.seven More than half – 61% – are held in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Syria.8
Attacks on women journalists have seen a particularly sharp increase, with 35% more women journalists imprisoned in 2020 compared to 2019.9 There has also been a fourfold increase in “arbitrary arrests” of journalists this year, the majority of which appear to have been linked to their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Reporters Without Borders:ten
“While most of the journalists arrested were only held for a few hours or, in some cases, days or weeks), 14 journalists arrested in connection with their coverage of the pandemic are still being held at the end of the year. . “
Killings of journalists doubled in 2020
CPJ also reports11 that murders of journalists more than doubled in 2020, compared to 2019. Killings are characterized as “retaliatory killings” by gangs and activists in “violent but democratic nations”, and murdered journalists most often covered political issues.
In all, 30 journalists were killed around the world in 2020 as a result of their work. Of those, 21 were murdered, a significant jump from the 10 murdered in 2019. 15 more deaths are also under CPJ investigation to determine if journalism was the motive, so the tally final could be even higher.12
The countries with the highest number of retaliatory killings in 2020 were Mexico, Afghanistan and the Philippines.13 Adding insult to injury, in the vast majority of these murders, the killers are released.
China sentences citizen journalist to four years in prison
As mentioned, China detained the highest number of journalists in 2020. As of December 1, 2020, 117 Chinese journalists have been placed behind bars.14 One of them is Zhang Zhan, a former lawyer from Shanghai who was arrested on May 15, 2020.
She had been posting daily video reports of the Wuhan outbreak on YouTube and Twitter since early February. While these social media platforms are blocked in mainland China, Zhang was using a virtual private network (VPN) to access the sites. According to Vice:15
“His videos contrasted starkly with state media reports on the outbreak, which initially ignored the severity of the virus and sought to highlight the heroic efforts of medical staff in treating patients.
On December 28, 2020, the Shanghai Pudong People’s Court sentenced Zhang to four years in prison for “picking up quarrels and causing unrest.” According to Vice,16 this “loosely defined accusation” is one “that the Chinese government often uses to silence critics.”
Zhang reportedly went on a hunger strike in June and has since been force-fed with a nasal catheter. One of Zhang’s defense attorneys told Vice17 she started the hunger strike because “she could not accept the fact that she was punished for having exercised her freedom of expression, a right enshrined in the Chinese constitution”, adding that “she considers respect as an insult to herself.
Chinese citizen journalists still missing
In addition to Zhang, at least three other citizen journalists who covered the Wuhan pandemic – Chen Quishi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua – are also detained or missing. Chen, who passed away in February 2020,18 is now believed to be held by Chinese authorities, although its precise whereabouts are still unclear.19
A similar fate appears to have befallen Li, who, in his latest YouTube video, posted in April, said he was detained by police but not charged. No additional videos have been posted to his account since, so it is unclear whether he has been released or remains in detention. Fang’s whereabouts are also unknown.
Many countries have armed the news in 2020
According to an article from June 5, 202020 According to Courthouse News, at least 16 countries then passed laws “targeting disinformation about the coronavirus.” According to Uladzislau Belavusau, senior researcher at the Center for International and European Law of the Asser Institute, “Corona laws are often used as a facade for the decline of democratic institutions …”21
Countries that now have laws in place that restrict the dissemination of information about COVID-19 and call for fines and / or the arrest of journalists accused of disseminating false information about the virus are shown in the graphic22 below, created by the International Press Institute (IPI).
The IPI, which monitored restrictions on press freedom during the pandemic, also released the following image:23 showing the number of press freedom violations recorded worldwide.
According to Barbara Trionfi, executive director of the IPI, “In all cases, the laws have been used to limit critical and legitimate reporting” on the pandemic.24 Marko Milanovic, professor of public international law at the University of Nottingham Law School, agreed, telling Courthouse News that the approach “is not effective” because the laws are “widely used to limit criticism government rather than to prevent bad actors from spreading. misinformation. ”Courthouse News added:25
“Yordanka Ivanova, researcher in international law at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, argues that privacy regulations could curb the spread of false information. Limiting targeting of social media companies, she said, could prevent information from spreading widely and minimize so-called filter bubbles, where people only see information that matches their existing beliefs.
Extensive COVID Coverage in China
Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at Harvard’s Broad Institute and MIT, has been outspoken about China’s apparent efforts to withhold information about the source of SARS-CoV-2. In a Twitter post from December 28, 2020, Chan listed a number of suspicious approaches taken by Chinese authorities since the first outbreak in Wuhan:26
“Imprison journalists for investigating what happened in Wuhan, obstruct investigations into mysterious cases of pneumonia among minors in Yunnan in 2012, failure to describe what should have been a startling find from an FCS novel [furin cleavage site] in a SARS virus, deletion of a large database on pathogens… ”
As detailed in “Top medical journal caught in massive cover-up, “Nature, one of the most prestigious medical journals, has allowed authors to covertly modify SARS-CoV-2 datasets in their articles without publishing a correction notice. It was Chan who discovered that the scientists renamed the samples, didn’t assign them correctly, and produced a genomic profile that didn’t match the samples in their paper.
According to Chan,27 the bat and mouse viral pathogen database, which had been managed by Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was also taken offline, further limiting the capacity of scientists and researchers to analyze the potential origins of SARS-CoV-2.
We are in an information war
Overall, China appears determined to maintain tight control over the pandemic narrative. Clearly, the Chinese government is unwilling to disclose anything that could implicate it in releasing a lab-created virus, whether accidental or intentional.
But China is far from alone in this quest. Many countries around the world are clearly determined to also control the narrative and are stepping up attacks on journalists who dig deeper and question the logic of it all.
As stated in “Spy agencies threaten to ‘suppress’ Mercola“and”Mercola defamed by “ anti-hate ” digital groupThis really includes yours. According to recent media reports,28,29,30 Intelligence agencies in the UK and US are now working to eliminate “anti-vaccine propaganda” from the public debate using sophisticated cyber warfare tools.
That we are in an information war could not be clearer. And, in a war where information is the main weapon, journalists look like soldiers. There will be victims. Yet we cannot, we must not stop. The freedom of every person in the world is at stake.