Experts urge states to create emergency visa for journalists at risk

An independent international panel of legal experts on media freedom called on countries to create an emergency visa for journalists at risk.

The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom – an independent body convened in 2019 at the request of the United Kingdom and Canada – released on Monday, November 23, a new advisory report directed to members of the 40-strong Media Freedom Coalition of states.

The report, Providing Safe Refuge for Journalists at Risk, was authored by Professor Can Yeğinsu, a member of the panel and one of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s international lawyers.

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former president of the UK Supreme Court, serves as the panel chair, while international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is the deputy chair.

Using real-life case studies, the report discussed different circumstances which make relocation necessary for journalists at risk.

Current pathways to safety, the report said, are “too few in number” and “too slow, burdensome, and difficult to navigate” for journalists needing immediate protection.

“States that believe protecting journalists and championing their work constitutes a vital pillar of a free and democratic society need to act,” the report said.

“Introducing a new emergency visa for journalists at risk and making the essential adjustments recommended in this report to the existing framework of safe relocation will send a clear message back: ‘If you are at risk for what you write, we will protect you,’” it added.

The panel, in an earlier report, also recommended the creation of a new charter of rights for detained foreign journalists and urged countries to strengthen consular assistance and protections to them.

Here are the report’s 9 main recommendations:

1. States should introduce an emergency visa for journalists at risk.

The report said this would be the most effective and principled way to address the current obstacles with the existing immigration pathways. 

The visa should be open to those journalists in need of immediate or urgent protection and/or their families and should continue to be available until the risk subsides. 

2. Without a journalist-specific emergency visa, States should commit to the expedited processing of visa applications received from journalists at risk.

Once journalists submit information proving the risks they face, the embassy is advised to swiftly process the application, ideally within 48 hours for urgent cases and 15 days maximum for high-risk cases.

3. In the absence of emergency visa, States should provide a fair assessment, as well as an opportunity for journalists applying for visa to explain issues involving character and security. 

These are usually issues that these journalists face due to government-backed criminal investigation or charges against them.

4. States should commit to granting visas to immediate family members/dependents of journalists at risk who are granted visas.

5. States should issue travel documents to relocated journalists at risk if their home countries move to revoke or cancel their passports.

6. States should permit refugee protection visa applications to be made by journalists at risk, from within their home State.

7. States should make clear in their domestic law that journalists at risk can fall within the definition of a ‘refugee’ for the purposes of the Refugee Convention, or otherwise qualify for International Protection.

8. The International Criminal Police Organization or INTERPOL should require States seeking the issuance of a Red Notice or arrest warrant to specify whether the subject is a journalist. If it is, INTERPOL should conduct a robust assessment before issuing a notice or not.

Article 3 of INTERPOL’s constitution prevents it from undertaking activities or interventions of a political nature.

But the report said this has not prevented States from abusing INTERPOL’s systems to issue politically motivated notices, including notices against journalists who have relocated from their home countries.

9. Signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom should nominate ‘regional champion’ States, for two-year terms, to spearhead efforts in the provision of safe refuge for journalists at risk.

Journalists may face cultural and/or linguistic barriers upon relocation which may, in turn, hinder their ability to continue their journalistic work.

The report said it is desirable for journalists to relocate to a country, where possible, within the same region as their home State. 

At least 37 member-states of the Media Freedom Coalition, including UK and Canada, have signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, which "commits like-minded countries to working together on identifying and acting on violations and abuses against members of the press." 

– Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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