Covering the pandemic puts journalists worldwide at risk of infection and retaliation

July 1, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC

For journalists across the globe, documenting the COVID-19 pandemic has come with the risk of not only contracting the illness, but also facing retaliation. Officials in many nations are using the public health threat of the pandemic as an excuse to restrict media coverage on many important issues.

It’s difficult to quantify the extent to which government-imposed emergency measures have come at the expense of press freedom. But between February 2020 and June 22, 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented 221 press freedom violations related to the pandemic, and journalists who have attempted to do their jobs have faced consequences including surveillance, harassment, censorship, and imprisonment.

These restrictions have been found to disproportionately impact female journalists and journalists of color. A recent report commissioned by the Gates Foundation concluded that even when women’s voices are included in news coverage, they are often overpowered by men’s, subsequently limiting female influence over how issues are framed and, subsequently, relevant policy decisions.

For more than two years, Fortune has been part of a collective that publishes a list of the most urgent press freedom abuses around the world. The One Free Press Coalition (OFPC) assembles the list monthly in partnership with CPJ. The CPJ has also collaborated with the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) on lists of safety resources and support for journalists.

Find last month’s OFPC list of journalists under threat here. Read this month’s list below.

1. Rana Ayyub, Saba Naiv, and Mohammed Zubair (India)

Last year, police filed a criminal investigation against an editor at independent news website The Wire for allegedly “spreading discord” related to the COVID-19 lockdown. Now authorities have launched a criminal investigation against The Wire and journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammed Zubair that alleges they shared an unverified video that could cause social unrest.

Courtesy of Marie Claire South Africa

2. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)

July 25 marks one year since journalist and human rights activist Azimjon Askarov died in a Kyrgyz prison. His family suspected that he had contracted COVID-19, but authorities refused to test him.

3. José Antônio Arantes (Brazil)

The founder and editor of Folha da Região has received threatening messages on social media in response to his coverage of the pandemic, and he was the target of an arson attack on the building housing both his home and newspaper headquarters.

4. Gamal al-Gamal (Egypt)

Egyptian freelance columnist contracted COVID-19 earlier this year while held in pretrial detention in Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison. While he was eventually transferred to a hospital, conditions behind bars remain unsafe for many inmates.  

5. Rozina Islam (Bangladesh)

Rozina Islam was arrested in May on allegations of stealing official documents and espionage after reporting on alleged corruption and mismanagement in the government’s response to the pandemic. Though she was released on bail, if charged and convicted, she could face up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty.

6. Nurgeldi Halykoy (Turkmenistan)

Freelance correspondent Nurgeldi Halykov has been behind bars since September 2020 on fraud charges, which colleagues believe are retaliation for his reporting, including coverage of the pandemic for independent Netherlands-based news website Turkmen.news. 

7. Andrzej Poczobut (Belarus)

Political commentator and TV producer Andrzej Poczobut has been held in pre-trial detention since March. He has reportedly contracted COVID-19 while behind bars, with prisoners kept in crowded conditions, but has now been placed in quarantine. 

8. Siddique Kappan (India)

Indian journalist behind bars reportedly collapsed earlier this year after reportedly contracting COVID-19. While a court dropped one of the non-bailable charges against him in June, authorities in Uttar Pradesh continue to pursue and investigate additional retaliatory charges against him.

9. Shahram Safari (Iran)

Freelance Kurdish journalist, who also runs local news Telegram channel “Rawezh Press,” was sentenced to three months in prison over his COVID-19 reporting. While he is appealing the decision, he faces two additional cases against him.

10. Oratile Dikologang (Botswana)

Oratile Dikologang, cofounder and digital editor of local website Botswana People’s Daily News, is due in court July 12 on charges relating to information shared to Facebook about COVID-19 and local politics. He denies publishing the posts. 

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