Thank you Samantha. Hello everybody.
I’m honored to be here in my good friend Ambassador Power’s new home to echo her words and to pick up where she left off – which is I think what I will be doing every single day in this new job.
Ambassador Power summed up our purpose here very well: She said that we are here to affirm the right to pursue truth. That pursuit of truth is, in many parts of the world, a profoundly dangerous activity. This right is continuously under assault, therefore in need of our affirmation.
And it’s the policy of the United States to defend it wherever it is threatened. We will stand up for journalists and writers, for essayists and editors, bloggers and broadcasters, photographers and videographers, Tweeps and Tumblers – their right to seek out the truth and to tell us what they find and what they think, without censorship or fear of retribution.
Now we do this because it’s right. We do it because the freedom of the press is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We also do it because the world in which we want to live depends on it.
Here at the United Nations, governments spend most of their time considering matters of peace and security.
An event like this, where we spotlight individuals who have risked their lives and liberties to report news, but who are not household names, may seem peripheral to the core business of a global organization, or to the core interests of a great powers.
But consider the crisis that is occupying much of our attention here today – Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. And consider what preceded it: A systematic campaign by the Russian government to bring newspapers, television and radio stations, and social networks under its control, to silence dissenting voices and control the information that the Russian people receive.
Now a lot of the world has marveled at the clumsiness of the Russian government’s propaganda about the situation in Ukraine: The Russian people have been told that Kyiv has been captured by Nazis and is engulfed in chaos and flames, that there were no Russian forces in Crimea and are none today in Eastern Ukraine. Even that the United States has deployed combat dolphins to the Black Sea to undermine Russian interests.
Now all of this seems preposterous to us. But when media loyal to the Russian state relentlessly broadcasts such propaganda and Russian authorities shut down alternative sources of information, more and more people are lulled into thinking that black is white, up is down, and two plus two may equal five.
By creating a closed information space within Russia, the Kremlin has thus been free to act without fear of domestic opposition or constraint. And it’s now trying to expand that closed information space into Crimea, and seeking to bring eastern Ukraine within it as well.
In recent days, we have seen armed men taking over TV stations and towers, journalists kidnapped, brutally attacked.
Yesterday, we were relieved to learn that pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk had released a kidnapped American journalist. But we’re deeply disturbed by his account of a dozen other detainees still being held and mistreated in the same place.
Now this isn’t just wrong. As I suggested, it is profoundly dangerous. And it is why freedom of the press is so important. Its absence in Russia allows the fabrication of a false narrative that enables violence and violations of sovereignty that threaten the international order. And that’s why it’s so important that we focus on it at the UN today.
And its one reason why the United States makes this a central principle in our foreign policy.
When these freedoms are hampered or denied, we are resolute in support of free speech in both principle and practice.
Where there is corruption, we want it exposed. Where there is torture, we want it unmasked. Where there is abuse of power, we want its consequences discussed and debated.
And when we have a dispute with another country, we want people on both sides to have access to the same information so that both sides’ governments can be held equally accountable.
We raise media freedom issues in our dealings with all governments at all levels and at all times. We push for the release of imprisoned journalists. We call for justice when bloggers are killed with impunity.
We also provide direct assistance and training to journalists in challenging places. Last year, for example, we started a program called SAFE designed to ensure the safety of journalists working in conflict areas. Following one training for example, a reporter from Africa recounted how, for the first time in years, he was able to get a full night’s rest without a sense of fear.
We also provide direct support to independent media in closed societies around the world – in places like Sudan, where a young father chose not to have his daughters circumcised because of a State Department-funded radio show that educated people on the dangers of female genital mutilation. Or, in North Korea, where we support the broadcast of uncensored information to people in a place whose government tries to deny them knowledge of the very existence of alternative ways of life.
There is much work to be done, and that’s why we’re here. For we live in a world where too many reporters are intimidated into silence. Where too many journalists are subject to restrictive laws that conflate criticism with criminal activity.
Where at least one journalist a week has been killed each year for the last decade.
Yes, there is much work to be done. And we must and will continue to do it.
Usually, its reporters who give voice to stories that would otherwise not be told. Today, we give voice to the stories of four reporters who need and deserve to have their stories told.
Sergey Reznik is a Russian journalist and blogger who sits in prison for the alleged crime of insulting a local judge. Human rights activists in Russia believe he is serving an 18-month sentence in retaliation for his writings, which criticized local authorities and uncovered corruption.
One month before his conviction, he was beaten with a baseball bat and shot by two unidentified men. Reznik now sits in jail. Those who attacked him still walk free.
Today, we again call on the government of Russia to release Sergey Reznik, to cease its unprecedented campaign to silence the independent press, and to protect the right to freedom of expression.
In Vietnam, two people also sit in prison for doing their jobs, and another is under house arrest. Mr. Nguyen Van Hai, better known as Dieu Cay, Ms. Ta Phong Tan, and Mr. Phan Thanh Hai were arrested in 2012 for quote, “anti-state propaganda,” which carries sentences of 12, 10, and four years respectively. Their true crime? Writing blog entries and advocating for freedom of expression.
Today, we continue to call for the immediate release of all three individuals, who were jailed merely for exercising their basic human rights. And we call on Vietnam to honor its international human rights commitments.
Now these four people represent the very best of what it means to pursue truth. That is why we are highlighting them today as the first part of our 12 Free the Press cases this year.
In the coming days, we will continue to raise the cases of other imperiled reporters and media outlets from around the world on our website, HumanRights.gov, and from the podium during our daily press briefs at the State Department.
Now, I would like to turn this podium over to someone who is doing fantastic work on these very issues and to whom we all owe a great, great, great debt of gratitude – Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists.