Speaking to reporters on the state of press freedom worldwide, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that “journalists around the world are increasingly under siege … in a whole variety of ways.” That fact has manifested itself very powerfully in the detention in Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gerschkovich:
“We have a country in the case of Russia that like a handful of other countries around the world is wrongfully detaining people, using them as political pawns, using them as leverage in a practice that is absolutely unacceptable and that we’re working both broadly to try to deter – but also at the same time to try to secure the release of those who are being unjustly detained.”
Indeed, according to the moderator of the event, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, 67 journalists and media workers were killed last year, while about 570 are in prison in 30 countries around the world.
The United States uses various tools as leverage against groups that abuse journalists. One of them is the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which imposes sanctions against those who unlawfully or wrongfully detain U.S. nationals abroad. “The Levinson Act is an important tool,” said Secretary Blinken. “It gives us different and new authorities to try to go at those who are directly engaged in wrongfully detaining journalists or wrongfully detaining our citizens. It includes things like travel bans, like asset freezes … Our hope is that by applying it, we can have a chilling effect on those who would engage in these practices going forward..”
The United States is “trying to fight back and push back around the world to help journalists, who – in one way or another, are facing intimidation, coercion, persecution, prosecution, surveillance,” said Secretary Blinken. This includes funds to supply journalists with technology, to defend themselves against malevolent litigation, another to help journalists protect themselves from intimidation and coercion by states.
“We contribute tens of millions of dollars into a media freedom fund for independent media to bolster their capacity to continue doing business even in very difficult places,” he said.
It’s very important, said Secretary Blinken, that “We’re engaging with people who have one of the most important responsibilities in this world, and that is to hold governments, to hold institutions to account, to shine light where there’s darkness, to give people confidence in their institutions, in the people who have the responsibility to represent them.”