Nearly two decades ago, the UN General Assembly proclaimed May 3 as World Press Freedom Day as a reminder that free, independent press is essential to democracy and is a fundamental human right.
In honor of that occasion, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has organized a conference today at the Newseum in Washington, DC, with a focus on how Internet and digital platforms are contributing to freedom of expression, democratic governance and sustainable development across the globe.
Today is also a good time to remember that, according to Reporters Without Borders, 145 journalists were imprisoned and fifty-seven killed in 2010 alone, while the numbers for 2011 are sure to be higher.
Sad examples are legion. My colleague Richard Kim writes of investigative reporter Shane Bauer's continued imprisonment in Iran after twenty-one months.
Just last week, Dorothy Parvaz, a Canadian-American-Iranian journalist with Al Jazeera arrived in Syria's airport on Friday for a reporting assignment and has not been seen or heard from since. A regional official of the Committee to Protect Journalists said there was "strong evidence" to suggest the journalist had been detained on arrival at Damascus airport on a flight from Qatar. She has US, Iranian and Canadian citizenship, and formerly was a reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
As repression in Syria has increased in turn with growing democracy protests, some Syrian journalists have been detained for weeks as part of an effort by the government to limit media coverage of the unrest. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that scores of Syria’s most prominent intellectuals and activists have gone into hiding as government forces continue to carry out raids and arrests across the country.
Al Jazeera has demanded immediate information from Syria on Parvaz's whereabouts but has so far been rebuffed. In the United States, Senator Patty Murray has made a formal inquiry to the State Department asking for help in locating Parvaz. Join this Facebook page, created to update supporters on news and ways to help, as a way of marking today's World Press Freedom Day.