Sun 23 February 2020

Why the work of a small group in London, Prisoners of Conscience, is sadly becoming more relevant than ever for persecuted journalists across the world.

In the UK, we take the safety of journalists for granted. This is not the case in many other parts of the world.

In 2018, 251 journalists were jailed around the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Just five countries accounted for 70% of this imprisonment – Turkey, China, Egypt, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia.

A small organisation in London, Prisoners of Conscience (POC), is working hard to help journalists, bloggers and other voices of conscience to survive in harsh regimes and also to escape their countries.

It is worrying that freedom of speech is under so much threat.

Gary Allison, director, Prisoners of Conscience

The group has seen a 440% rise in the numbers of journalists and bloggers who have needed their help since 2015. Of all the people POC helps, they are the group with the fastest-growing need.

There has been a significant increase in the number of journalists who are persecuted and have had to flee their country. Many of these are in hiding and need additional support until they reach sanctuary.

While journalists face similar challenges to other refugees, they have to deal with the very particular risks of being personally targeted and followed across borders by security forces from the countries from which they have fled.

For example, two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were recently freed from prison in Myanmar, where the POC has been working for the past 20 years helping a wide range of people under threat because of their conscience.

There are some countries where life is getting better for journalists such as Ethiopia, where recently most journalists have been released from jail, but the overall picture is very worrying.

In 2018, 251 journalists were jailed around the world.

Committee to Protect Journalists

Originally set up as the relief arm of Amnesty International, POC is now independent of the charity. It focuses on tangible relief not advocacy, and has helped more than 10,000 prisoners of conscience since it was established in the early 1960s.

POC is keen to ensure that journalists and other prisoners of conscience who come to the UK have the best possible chance to rebuild their lives. It has developed an employability programme to help give them the skills to work here in the UK, as well as an alumni organisation to enable people who have been helped by POC in the past to give back and help new recipients.

“ No other charity in the UK focuses on providing emergency assistance to human rights defenders who exercise an act of conscience and there is a huge job to do,” Gary Allison, POC’s director said. “It is worrying that freedom of speech is under so much threat.”

The organisation has a huge job on its hands and, unfortunately, recent developments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and many other regimes that target journalists mean that its work is going to continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.

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