Ruth Maguire MSP joined colleagues in the Scottish Parliament chamber to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

World Press Freedom Day 2022, acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.  It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.

Speaking in the Members’ Debate Ruth Maguire MSP said:

“World Press Freedom day is a day of support for media that are targets for the restraint or abolition of press freedom. 

It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. April saw the fourth anniversary of the death of Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein, who was fatally wounded by an Israeli sniper’s bullet as he covered one of the great march of return protests near the Israeli border in the Gaza strip. Reporters Without Borders announced in April that it had registered more than 140 Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists since those weekly protests began in March 2018. Mr Hussein died in hospital on 25 April 2018 from the gunshot injury that he sustained while covering the protest on 13 April. Another Palestinian journalist, Yasser Mortaja, was killed on the spot by an Israeli military sniper’s bullet while covering the protest on 6 April 2018. 

According to a tally of Reporters Without Borders, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been at the receiving end of live rounds, rubber bullets, stun grenades or tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers or police—or their baton blows—in the Gaza strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the past four years of great march of return protests. Israel is ranked 86th out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index, while Palestine is ranked 132nd. 

I have spoken before about PEN International’s day of the imprisoned writer, so I will take some time to talk about its call to action on this press freedom day. Ismail al-Iskandrani is an award-winning writer, investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher who is best known for his research and writings on militant groups operating in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. He was arrested on 29 November 2015 at the airport on his return from Berlin in Germany. The authorities seized his laptop, mobile phone and personal belongings, and later presented them as evidence against him. He was held in arbitrary pre-trial detention for over two years before being referred to a military court under the pretext of revealing military secrets.

In May 2018, al-Iskandrani was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “leaking military secrets” and “membership of a terrorist group”. On 24 December 2018, an Egyptian military court upheld the 10-year prison sentence against him. He is currently held in Mazraa prison in the Tora prison complex, where he is reportedly denied access to in-person visits with his family, as well as access to reading and writing materials. PEN believes that al-Iskandrani’s detention and conviction are linked to his work, which challenges the Government’s narrative on its counterterrorism operations. I will be joining its call to action and writing to the Egyptian authorities, and colleagues may wish to join me.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and, of course, the need to fight for fundamental rights is not new. It has always been important to protect people around the world from the threat of violence or state suppression but, as with so many things over the past few years, now, with on-going conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, in the shadows of a global pandemic and operating in a digital era that brings as many challenges as it does opportunities, that need feels even sharper. 

I want to conclude by recognising the contribution that journalists all over the world make to the crucial foundations of democracy and dialogue. Press freedom and freedom of expression support the protection and promotion of all other human rights. It is in all our interests to ensure that both here and around the world journalists can do their work freely and safely.”

Find Ruth’s contribution to the debate on the Scottish Parliament Official Report here.