Justice for Journalists
The world is becoming increasingly authoritarian, and authoritarian leaders increasingly use courts to suppress truthful reporting. With the highest number of journalists behind bars since records began, and the murder of journalists going unpunished in more than 80% of cases, it’s ever more important that we know what’s taking place in courts. But that data is not generally available. As the only comprehensive, global program monitoring criminal trials, the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch Initiative – now active in over 40 countries – is filling this gap.
The formidable Filipino journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa was awarded the Justice For Journalists Award by Meryl Streep at our inaugural Albie Awards in 2022 for her reporting exposing government corruption and human rights violations in the Philippines. Maria is a client of Amal Clooney and currently faces a lifetime behind bars.
Defending the Press
Since its launch in April 2019, TrialWatch has focused on monitoring trials against journalists. We have monitored over 40 cases that threaten press freedom, including cases in which journalists have been charged with criminal defamation and insult, ‘fake news,’ national security offenses, and sedition. We have covered the crackdowns on journalists in Belarus, India, Morocco, and Hong Kong, as well as trials implicating freedom of expression of protesters, academics, opposition leaders and activists in countries such as Uganda and Thailand.
Pursuing Threats to Press Freedom
A growing number of governments treat journalists as ideological enemies of the state, and authoritarian leaders are increasingly using courts to suppress truthful reporting. At CFJ our initiatives not only take on specific cases of journalists being prosecuted, but tackle the root cause of censorship and diminishing press freedom – authoritarian governments and armed groups emboldened to threaten those seeking to expose the truth.
In Venezuela, Reporters Without Borders reports that many journalists have fled the country since 2018 because of physical danger. Both print and online media sources have suffered from harassment, including repeated cyberattacks. CFJ’s work gathering evidence of international crimes in the country will now lend investigative support to an ICC and help get justice for those who have suffered.
A 2021 contribution from the Google News Initiative (GNI) for TrialWatch, will focus on championing press freedom and advocating for journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned. The contribution will support its efforts in advocating for journalists around the world who have been unjustly imprisoned or targeted with laws that suppress free speech.
Through our work we have documented the various types of charges used against journalists and others exercising their right to freedom of expression:
We have also issued many Fairness Reports assessing the trial process, so that there is now objective data and an expert assessment of what happened at trial instead of a ‘he said/she said’ analysis or bare denials by autocratic regimes.
These reports have identified a variety of human rights violations:
Impact of Our Press Freedom Work
Recipient of multiple awards including the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Gwen Ifill Award for ‘extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom’ and the American Society of International Law’s Champion of the International Rule of Law’ award, CFJ Co-Founder Amal Clooney has successfully freed clients even in the most challenging legal landscapes. This includes Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, detained in Myanmar following their coverage of the genocide of Rohingya Muslims, Al Jazeera’s former bureau chief for Egypt, Mohamed Fahmy, and former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.
We are also proud of the work our TrialWatch initiative has led to innocent journalists being freed from imprisonment after we exposed their sham trials.
In Tunisia, at the appeal hearing of blogger and activist Myriam Bribri, her defence team used TrialWatch’s Fairness Report to demonstrate that her trial violated her right to freedom of expression. TrialWatch also released a video ahead of her appeal in which Bribri discussed the motivations behind her prosecution. TrialWatch monitored Bribri’s case from the courtroom.
In 2022 she was convicted of “offending security officials” for reposting and commenting on a video depicting police brutality and given a 4-month prison sentence and fined 500 Dinars. At the 2023 appeal hearing where our report was quoted, her conviction was requalified by the Court meaning she would no longer serve time in prison.
In Morocco, TrialWatch monitored the trial of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni and released a report exposing her sham trial. She was then freed and pardoned following the international attention drawn to her case. TrialWatch Expert Baroness Helena Kennedy KC – Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute – graded the trial a “D”.
Ms. Raissouni – a journalist for one of Morocco’s few independent newspapers – was charged with the ‘crimes’ of abortion and extra-marital sex after reporting that was critical of the government and convicted after a sham process in which she was denied access to a lawyer.
To learn more about our press freedom impact, and more, visit Our Impact page.