CJA statement on World Press Freedom Day 2008

As we approach World Press Freedom Day on May 3, our thoughts and prayers
are with our many Commonwealth friends and colleagues who face censorship,
intimidation, physical harm and, worse, death in the pursuit of their craft.

A free press and freedom of speech constitute the strongest
pillars of a democracy. People from all walks of life, religions, and
political stripes are free to disseminate ideas, thoughts and information;
they are free to publish and broadcast supporting or dissenting views of the
government of the day; they are free to stroll the streets and participate
in forums without fear of retribution.

Sounds like utopia?

It may be so in Commonwealth countries such as Great Britain,
Canada, Australia, and New Zealand where press freedom and freedom of speech
are enshrined in their constitutions. But it is not so utopian in more than
30 Commonwealth countries where despotic governments and others seek to
suppress and muzzle the press.

Pakistan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, The Maldives and Kenya
come to mind in recent days. There are others with less-than-perfect
performances, and judicial practices which need reform, particularly old
criminal libel and sedition laws.

The Internet makes it possible to easily learn about assaults on press
freedom and the press throughout the world. And although his country is at
present out of the Commonwealth, there is no place for the likes of a Robert
Mugabe-style leadership to hide in the face of worldwide scorn. Similarly,
China cannot prevent similar protests against its tawdry human rights record
on the eve of the Beijng Olympics.

The Commonwealth Journalists Association deplores the
simplistic, ignorant and hardline approach taken by those in countries whose
leaders think it is necessary to restrict free expression.

Journalists throughout the Commonwealth can take comfort in
knowing that the CJA will be on their side, to the greatest extent possible.
We will continue to press for and foster press freedom with support our
colleagues whose craft is under siege.

The World Press Association is a forerunner in supporting this
special day. Newspapers and others can download messages, images and videos
related to press freedom from their site.

Warm wishes

Hassan Shahriar
Commonwealth Journalists Association

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