On World Press Freedom Day, Prisoners of Conscience highlights its role in keeping journalists safe.

Prisoners of Conscience has distributed grants worth £23,161 to 28 journalists around the world in 2019, an increase in value of 23% on the previous year. 

The grants were awarded to journalists in 17 different countries across central Asia, Middle East and Africa. These journalists had all suffered persecution in some form as a result of their work investigating and reporting on government and corporate activities. In most cases, the funding awarded was used to help the journalists flee their home countries in search of safety, such as by paying for travel to a country of refuge, accommodation and living expenses, medical bills and child support. 

Gary Allison, chief executive of Prisoners of Conscience says: “As the Coronavirus crisis has highlighted, press freedom is what keeps us healthy and safe. Without the efforts of journalists, lives of millions of people would be at risk, governments’ responses to the pandemic would go unchallenged and dangerous fake news would continue circulating. The ability to freely exchange ideas and information based on factual truths is the cornerstone of democracy and should be protected and celebrated. Yet all over the world, press freedom is under threat.” 

He continued: “As we have seen recently, journalists have been disappeared for reporting on coronavirus in China; Iran has stepped up its intimidation of journalists wanting to cover the virus; and Egypt has been accused of censoring information about the numbers affected in its country. We are particularly keen to help maintain free and accurate reporting during the crisis and therefore welcome applications for those journalists who have been prevented from reporting the truth about Coronavirus in their respective countries.”

Clampdowns on press freedom and worsening hostility and hatred towards the media mean there are an increasing number of journalists who are being threatened, arrested, tortured and imprisoned for exposing and criticising government and corporate activities. For many, the only option is for them to flee their country in search of safety, leaving their families and everything they own behind. 

Gary Allison added: “Many of these journalists live in hiding with the constant threat of danger hanging over them. They are unable to work, see their family and friends, or live any sense of a normal life. While journalists face similar challenges to other refugees, they also have to deal with very particular risks of being personally targeted and followed across borders by security forces from countries from which they have fled.”

“Since 2014, we have increased the number of subsistence grants awarded to journalists by 460% and by a value of 195% – money urgently needed for food, shelter, medical and legal bills and travel costs. We know that there are more journalists who need assistance, but we can only reach them with the help of our generous supporters.”

Recent recipients of our funding include Shahidul Alam, the award-winning photographer, writer and activist from Bangladesh who was recently imprisoned but then released without bail after openly criticising the government’s violent handling of student led demonstrations, and Eric, a journalist and newspaper editor from Rwanda, who was threatened and harassed after criticising the government and its suppression of independent reporting.  He was forced to flee with his family to a refugee camp in Uganda and then even further away from his home after the threats continued. 

Since 2014, the number of grants made to journalists by Prisoners of Conscience has been as follows: 

2014 – 5 grants made, totaling £7,860
2015 – 26 grants made, totaling £18,029 
2016 – 27 grants made, totaling £24,465
2017 – 22 grants made, totaling £18,177
2018 – 27 grants made, totaling £18,848
2019 – 28 grants made, totaling £23,161 

You can hear BBC correspondent, John Simpson, talk about the importance of Prisoners of Conscience, listen here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0004l83


* The application process

Prisoners of Conscience provides relief grants to help persecuted journalists and others like them pay for food, accommodation, travel and other basic everyday items.

If you are a journalist who has been persecuted for your work and want to apply for a grant from Prisoners of Conscience, you can either do so via one of our referral agencies (PEN, Reporters Sans Frontiers, Rory Peck Trust and Article 19) and let them know you would like them to make an application on your behalf. Or you can contact Prisoners of Conscience directly at kirsty@prisonersofconscience.org