A bleak picture of violations of freedom of expression and press freedom in the Americas

Presented by the IAPA at the conclusion of its 77th General Assembly.

Miami (October 22, 2021) - The 77th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) presented its conclusions after four days of meetings denouncing judicial harassment, stigmatization, imprisonment, arbitrary detentions, exile, hostility and violence against journalists, in addition to nine murders in the last six months.

Among other outstanding issues that marked this period, the organization mentioned the arbitrary intervention of newspapers as a policy of government harassment, restrictions on access to information, lack of transparency, repressive radicalization in several countries and the sustainability of the media.

The following are the Conclusions of the 77th IAPA Assembly:

From his exile in Madrid, Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez needed only a few words: "Authoritarianism seeks to reign in silence rather than listen to the voices that disturb it."

In the last six months, freedom of expression in the Americas has faced three dominant trends: repressive radicalization, judicial criminalization and a stifling environment.

Hostility, stigmatization, violence, arrests and death. Practicing journalism is increasingly dangerous in countries whose democracies are slowly degrading - concluded the 77th General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Nine journalists were murdered in the region - in Mexico (six), Brazil, Colombia and Haiti. That makes seventeen in the last twelve months.

Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera - who had survived a shooting in 2020 - was shot to death in Oaxaca. Ricardo Julio Domínguez - was gunned down in a parking lot on his way to pick up a payment for advertising. Benjamín Morales - director of a web page - was found on the side of a road. The desperation is such that the Mexican media decided to create the Alianza de MediosMx to combat such impunity.

In Nicaragua, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro - general manager of La Prensa, the country's main newspaper - has been in jail for more than two months and without medical attention - accused of absurd charges.

More than thirty journalists fled into exile from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Stigmatization campaigns against journalists have become a common practice by presidents of Mexico, Peru, Brazil and El Salvador - among other countries.

The sustainability of the media is another current and urgent issue after the severe damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic - with general confinements resulting in unprecedented audience peaks but, at the same time, causing a very serious economic slowdown that affected advertisers and readers alike. The Australian and European examples provide a roadmap to ensure that the large technological platforms pay adequately for the use of journalistic content - a process that is underway in many parts of the world.

The testimonies of Cuban repression are atrocious. The island's dictatorship experienced the most difficult semester in the last 25 years. The government responded to the massive peaceful protests in an indiscriminate manner - never seen before. Several journalists were jailed, held in isolation without legal assistance, accused of "contempt" and spreading "enemy propaganda" - and could face sentences of up to ten years for these alleged crimes.

Nicaragua enters the November 7 presidential elections with the main opposition candidates jailed, the La Prensa newspaper seized - and some of its main former executives under arrest. The regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, unleashed a real manhunt to silence any critical voice. Holmann's case is outrageous: he was taken to "sign some papers" at a judicial office and arrested on charges of "customs fraud and money, property and asset laundering to the detriment of the State and Nicaraguan society." The dictatorship attacks with arbitrary judicial summons and police harassment for committing "acts that undermine integrity." There are already 26 journalists who decided to go into exile - in the largest exodus since the citizen protests of 2018.

In Venezuela, there is no way out of Nicolás Maduro's regime in the short term. The main newspaper - El Nacional - remains seized by the Army without any court order. The independent print media only work on the web - managed from abroad - in the country with the worst internet access in the hemisphere. The Madurismo - which just interrupted the dialogue with the opposition after the extradition to the USA of a known front man - recognizes no limits: it is now going against the families of journalists living in exile - raiding their homes and issuing arrest warrants.

After the inauguration of Pedro Castillo's government, the Peruvian media are experiencing the worst situation since the fall of Fujimori's regime twenty years ago. The Executive Branch has adopted the aggressive attitude towards the press that Congress used to have - and is introducing crazy bills. Journalists are not allowed to enter the Presidential Palace and Castillo has so far refused to sign the Chapultepec and Salta declarations, in favor of freedom of expression - in addition to not having given even one interview in two and a half months.

In Mexico - the country with more murders at the hands of organized crime - the discrediting and diatribes against the press are already a daily habit of President Manuel López Obrador, who dedicates a morning slot to criticize media and reporters, focusing mainly on the newspapers Reforma and El Universal - which he calls "enemies of the people."

In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele's regime advances in an autocratic drift with the control of the judicial apparatus - obsessed with demonizing the work of reporters through mockery and unfounded messages that later translate into aggressions and outrages. The consequence? Self-censorship begins to prevail - as recognized by journalists themselves.

The Bolivian government is incredibly promoting the abolition of the secrecy of journalistic sources - a measure that is already being debated by the Legislative Assembly.

In Argentina, a minister seriously intimidates a humorist - and the President remains indifferent; the government insists on the fabrication of a lawfare between judges, journalists and opponents, while expanding and reproducing court cases against those who report and investigate and, as across the region, the unfair distribution of official advertising is back - which rewards the media friendly to those in power.

Even in the United States, the levels of violence are surprising: about one hundred journalists were attacked during street demonstrations in 2021 - in what seems to be a remnant of the intolerant years of Donald Trump.

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro insists on a systematic discourse against the press. Aggressions and stigmatization of journalists have become a daily occurrence - as is also the case in Guatemala and Ecuador. Haiti is experiencing a climate of generalized violence in which the press is not exempt. In Colombia, last year's massive marches were the occasion for rampant attacks.

Restrictions on free access to public information are seen in practically all countries - regardless of ideological leanings, and governments breach their own laws. Lack of transparency is like an oil slick spreading over the continent.

Practically no nation is spared. The criminalization of journalism by means of judicial complaints is alarming in Paraguay - a ruse that is replicated in Panama as a tool of intimidation.

Two clear Cinderella countries - Uruguay and Chile - stand out as examples of "full freedom" in the Chapultepec Index report - with which the IAPA and the Andrés Bello Catholic University of Venezuela measure the conditions in which the press works. Argentina also draws the attention: it is the country with the biggest and most "spectacular" fall in the whole region (down from 77.2% to 53.14%) regarding the work of the press - and is part of the group with "partial limitations" in the area of restrictions.

In another auspicious development, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Colombian State for the torture, kidnapping and rape of journalist Judith Bedoya, in 2000 - while she was doing investigative work at the Modelo prison in Bogota.

A few weeks ago, the Norwegian committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa and Dimitri Muratov. They are not the first journalists to receive such an award, but it is the first time that the prize has been awarded for defending freedom of expression, "a precondition for democracy and lasting peace" - as the resolution states.

The region's democracies struggle with their backs against the ropes - far from the ideals of advanced and robust civilizations.

The IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere; and is based in Miami, United States.