World Press Freedom Day celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom and pays tribute to the power an independent and free media brings to bear on individuals. Here are seven fabulous proponents of this fundamental right.
Press freedom campaigner is not the go-to description of the famous human rights barrister and wife of actor George Clooney. Yet Amal is representing the winner of the prestigious 2016 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, Khadija Ismayilova alongside the free speech NGO, the Media Legal Defence Initiative.
Khadija is an investigative journalist and outspoken critic of the Azerbaijani government who has throughout her career exposed evidence of corruption of the Azerbaijani President and his family. She was detained by the Azerbaijani Government in December 2014 and sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment on charges relating to abuse of power and tax evasion in September 2015.
Amal will be arguing before the European Court of Human Rights that Khadija’s experience at the hands of the Azerbaijani Government breached her right to liberty, to a fair trial, to freedom of expression, and to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion.
2. Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC
A man after our own hearts, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has won just about every accolade in the human rights book (of which, he has also written quite a few). For example, he won Liberty’s Judges Award for a Lifetime of Achievement in the Service of Human Rights in 2007 – so you’d be forgiven for thinking he had sat back since then. You’d be wrong.
Tomorrow, Lord Lester publishes his new book ‘Five Ideas to Fight For’, of which Free Speech is one. But, for us, Lord Lester won his place on our free speech fighters list back in 2011 with his impassioned advocacy in the Al Rawi v Security Service case. He successfully argued, on behalf of the Guardian, that former Guantanamo detainees should be able to access the evidence against them in their claims against the government for, amongst other things, torture and false imprisonment.
In his words:
The open justice principle encompasses the right of every member of the public to enter a courtroom to witness how justice is being administered, and of the media, acting as the eyes and ears of the public, to gain access to the courts and to publish fair and accurate reports of court proceedings fully and freely.
3. Peter Noorlander
It’s a small legal world, and third on our list is the co-founder of Media League Defence Initiative (the NGO representing Khadija Ismayilova with Amal Clooney, see above), Peter Noorlander. The Media League Defence Initiative (MLDI) is an NGO that defends the rights of journalists, bloggers and independent media outlets. Their achievements include winning the first ever free speech case to be litigated before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. They also successfully intervened in the David Miranda case, in which the Court of Appeal ruled that police powers to stop and search people they suspect of holding journalistic material used for terrorist purposes breached human rights laws.
As CEO of this trailblazing organisation, the MLDI’s free press successes are in no small part due to Peter’s direction.
4. Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith is a Legal Officer at free speech NGO Article 19 where he focusses on the right to freedom of information. He leads the organistion’s work at the UN Human Rights Council. A rising star, we’re sure we’ll see more of his free press work in the future.
5. Tim Luckhurst
Tim is a journalist and head of the Centre of Journalism at the University of Kent. He is also a leading academic critic of state involvement in the regulation of British newspapers. In a 2014 essay he co-wrote, “Good Behaviour Can Be Taught“, he argued that ethical training, not state sanctioned regulation is the best way to achieve quality journalism in a democratic society.
6. Dominic Casciani
In 2012, BBC Home Affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani successfully challenged the Justice Secretary’s refusal to grant the BBC permission to have and to broadcast a face-to-face interview with a terrorism suspect in HMP Long Lartin. The suspect had been detained for over seven years without charge or trial.
Casciani’s eventual interview can be heard here.
7. Rob Evans
Guardian journalist, Rob Evans used the Freedom of Information Act to access 27 pieces of correspondence – known as the “black-spider letters” between Prince Charles and ministers in Tony Blair’s government. This was to see how the heir to the throne might be seeking to influence government policies – undoubtedly a question of public interest. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, almost causing a constitutional crisis.