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States of Control: Covid, cuts and impunity -
South Asia report launched

Covid-19’s “great confinement” is challenging freedom of expression in ways never seen before in South Asia. In its 18th annual review of media freedoms in the region, the 2019-20 IFJ South Asia Press Freedom Report, launched on May 3, shares the experience of South Asia’s journalists in the thick of an invisible viral war as essential workers for truth and freedom of expression. The report was jointly launched on World Press Freedom Day by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN), supported by UNESCO, the Media, Safety and Solidarity Fund (MSSF) and the Norsk Journalistlag (NJ).
Read more here
Download the full report here
Read national reports here: AfghanistanBangladeshBhutanIndiaMaldivesNepalPakistan and Sri Lanka
Report highlights and key findings:
As well as national reports, the IFJ’s annual monitor on South Asia’s media took particular focus on issues related to reporting and access amid Covid-19, digital controls on media and freedom of expression, internet shutdowns (including the long-running shutdown in Indian administered Kashmir) and violation monitoring and attacks on media.
Pandemic and the press: As Covid-19 made a deadly sweep across the globe from the beginning of 2020, governments in South Asia have also tightened an iron grip over the media and democratic institutions. Media violations continued under the pandemic with an increase in digital controls, restricted access to information, amped up surveillance and arrests and detentions. Read more here.
Digital Controls: Across South Asia, repressive measures are receiving legal and even social sanction as governments enact more and more stringent laws and regulate online content in the name of tackling fake news, protecting national security or, most recently, public health as in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Read more here.
Attacks on media: The IFJ and its affiliates documented 219 violations against the media. This includes 52 jailings or detentions, 19 threats to the lives of journalists, 65 non-fatal attacks, 35 threats against media institutions, 8 gender-based attacks and 82 threats or attacks on rural, regional or minority journalists. Read more here. A robust monitoring system to defend and protect journalists from being targeted for their work, harassed or intimidated remains crucial for the IFJ and journalist unions.
Read more here
World Press Freedom Day actions around the region
  • The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and its affiliated unions in collaboration with All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC) organized seminars, discussions and candlelight vigils to observe the World Press Freedom Day and focused on the challenges faces by media, while personal protective equipment (PPE) was also distributed to journalists.
  • The Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) hosted discussions in Kapisa and Parwan provinces with local authorities acknowledging the crucial role media plays in raising awareness and reporting on Covid-19.
  • The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) cautioned central and state governments against the use of the Disaster Management Act 2005 to gag press freedom and intimidate journalists, particularly when media workers continue to work tirelessly under extraordinary conditions to report.
  • The Nepal Press Union (NPU) called on Nepal’s government to cease attempts to curb media rights and highlighted the challenges journalists face following the outbreak of Covid-19. NPU has called on the Nepal government to introduce a special relief package for journalists and media houses.
  • The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) hosted a digital discussion with the chair of National Human Rights commission (NHRC) and representatives from UNESCO to launch the Nepal report and review of monitoring. FNJ’s annual press freedom report and IFJ’s South Asia Press Freedom Report were launched.  
  • In Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement (FMM) stressed the importance of impartial and socially responsible media during the Covid-19 pandemic.  
    The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) launched a Facebook campaign to commemorate the day. View the Video.
  • The Journalists Association of Bhutan (JAB) extended a message to the journalist fraternity and people of Bhutan on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.
Affiliate responses to the Covid-19 pandemic
In Pakistan, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) successfully negotiated a relief package with Punjab’s information minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan. 
Since the pandemic outbreak in Nepal, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) has focused on two fronts: the safety and security of journalists, both physical and professional; and mitigating false information and rumors.
In Sri Lanka, the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Union, and three other organisations wrote to media owners to emphasise the need for greater transparency and consultation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Read more here.
IFJ: Covid-19 Report Safely
With the world in the middle of a health crisis caused by Coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates are taking actions to ensure the rights and safety of media workers when reporting on the virus.  Find more IFJ resources on reporting safely and actions taken by IFJ affiliates to support journalists here.
Reporting exposure and journalists at risk
At least 54 journalists and media workers have tested positive for the coronavirus across Pakistan
Read more here.
In India, at least 100 journalists have been reported as testing positive for Covid-19. Read more here.
Four journalists working for various media organisations from Parsa district of Nepal have tested positive for COVID-19. Read more here.
At least 100 journalists were found to be infected with Covid-19 in Bangladesh, and the death of one journalist has been confirmed so far. Read more here.
Global unions are joining forces for a gender equal new normal in a series of webinars to address #ALLwomen workers in the #COVID19 outbreak, with contributions from unions representing workers across sectors and regions. See the IFJ for more details here.
Challenges to information access
Bangladesh authorities sent five journalists to jail for reports on the mismanagement of the relief materials within first week of May. By the end of the same week, four others were charged and seven arrested for “spreading rumors and misinformation” on Facebook under the Digital Security Act. Read more here.
In Nepal, police arrested Binodbabu Rijal, editor of Kayakairan Daily, and Arjun Adhikari, a journalist with Radio Triveni, on April 27 for allegedly breaching lockdown rules. Read more here
Meanwhile, in India-administered Kashmir, more than eight million people are still unable to access reliable health information about Covid-19 as the seven month long internet shutdown continues through controls in 4G high speed mobile internet. Read more here.
Journalist Killings
Ahmad Khan Nawid, host of Voice of Ghor Radio in Afghanistan, was shot and killed in Firozkoh, Ghor province in police crossfire on May 9.  Read more here.
Sajid Hussain, 39, editor-in-chief of Balochistan Times who had been missing since March 2 was found dead in on April 23 in Sweden. On May 1, Swedish police confirmed that a body found in the Fyris River outside Uppsala, was that of Pakistani journalist. Read more here.
Critical Cases
Parents of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on
May 2, a day before the World Press Freedom Day, in response to the Sindh High Court ruling Ahmed Omer Saeed Sheikh who was originally found guilty of Pearl’s murder was only guilty of Pearl’s abduction.
Read more here.
Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a Bangladeshi photojournalist who had been missing for nearly two months, was arrested on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, by Border Guard Bangladesh. Read more here.
Three Kashmiri photographers: Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand, working with US-based Associated Press (AP), were awarded the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in the feature photography. Read more here
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regu­latory Authority (PEMRA) suspended the license of NEO TV on
May 6, claiming its transmission was illegal. Read more here.
Dhaval Patel, the editor of Face of Nation, was detained on sedition charges for a story critical of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. Read more here.
Opportunities and resources
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has published a Frequently Asked Questions resource outlining labour standards relevant to the evolving circumstances of Covid-19 and how workers can be supported. Read more here.
The ILO has also highlighted the relevance of ILO social security convention (C102) to the trade union and during the Covid-19 crisis. Read more here.
The India Media Literacy Network is holding a series of "How to navigate the Covid-19 'info-demic'" webinars to assist people with improving their media literacy skills. The webinars start on May 16, 2020 and will be available in five languages. Read more here.
For updates on news, events and solidarity actions follow IFJ on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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