Time Magazine announced on Dec. 11 their persons of the year for 2018, highlighting those who put themselves in harm’s way to expose truth and injustice around the world.
Time announced dead and imprisoned journalists as their “Persons of the Year.” The magazine will feature four different covers. One cover bears a picture of murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamaal Khashoggi, who was murdered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey in October. A second cover has a picture of the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. The newspaper staff was targeted by a lone gunman last June.
Persons of the year for 2018 have been heralded by Time as “the guardians,” journalists who have been targeted or harassed while exposing what people call a “war on truth.” One of the other two covers features Maria Ressa, a journalist who has reported on the violence inflicted by the Philippine government. The fourth cover bears the image of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists who were imprisoned for their coverage of Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya Muslims.
Khashoggi was the subject of a brutal murder inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Ankara, Turkey, this past October. Once known as a prominent journalist in the Middle East, and also served as an adviser to the Saudi government, he was critical of the way the Saudi regime dealt with dissenters. Those who dissented against the Saudi government have been harassed and imprisoned.
Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia and found exile in the United States. He became a columnist for the Washington Post and continued to criticize the Saudi government. He wrote in his first column for the publication that he feared being arrested as part of a crackdown on dissent.
Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Ankara to obtain marriage paperwork so he could marry his Turkish fiancé. He was confronted by 15 Saudis inside the consulate in what was suspected as a kidnapping. He was murdered during the struggle.
The Saudi government originally denied any knowledge and even alleged that Khashoggi left the consulate on his own. The story later changed, and the government said that he might have been murdered inside the consulate, adding that those responsible acted independently.
Khashoggi’s murder has since shined a brighter light on the crackdown policies of Saudi Arabia and has called into question the United States’ relationship with the country. President Donald Trump negotiated a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia. The country has launched a war in Yemen as part of an ongoing conflict with Iran. The war in Yemen has resulted in famine, displacement and tens of thousands of deaths of Yemeni civilians.
On a June afternoon in Annapolis, a 38-year-old male walked into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette and opened fire with a shotgun. That man, Jarrod Ramos, murdered five journalists: Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith.
Ramos had a dispute with the Capital Gazette that began in July 2011. A columnist wrote about a criminal harassment charge against him. He filed a defamation suit against the newspaper, where a judge ruled in the Capital Gazette’s favor. The columnist who wrote that piece, and the publisher at the time, were no longer employed at the newspaper when the shooting occurred.
Ressa has been a journalist for 33 years and currently is the CEO of Rappler, an online news website based in the Philippines. Ressa has reported from several dangerous areas, to include war zones.
Now, she is sitting in prison, and facing a sentence of up to 10 years. Her crime is said to be tax evasion, as she was indicted by the Philippine government. Her real crime — exposing the brutal reality of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.”
Duterte’s attempt to crack down on drug use in the Philippines has resulted in the deaths of at least 5,000 people since the beginning of December. Drug dealers and drug dealers are hunted down and killed without due process. These include children and innocents. Rappler began to report images of these atrocities. The Philippine government has now indicted Ressa on charges of tax evasion.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called Ressa’s charges a direct assault on freedom of the press. Amnesty International, a human rights group, called it an alarming attempt to silence independent journalism. Other journalists who have challenged the narrative of the Philippine drug war have faced harassment from Duterte supporters. That harassment is done on Facebook and other social media platforms.
The CPJ has said that a record-high 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017. That number could be just as high, if not higher, in 2018, the CPJ said.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by Myanmar Police in December 2017. Wa Lone was contacted by a lance corporal assigned to Myanmar’s 8th Security Police Battalion. He was asked to meet the police officer on the outskirts of Yangon just before dark.
Wa Lone was instructed by his bureau chief to take another reporter with him. He went with Kyaw Soe Oo, a 27-year-old reporter who was recently hired by Reuters. The two men drove to the outskirts of town and met the lance corporal at the designated meeting spot.
Wa Lone had previously taken photos of 10 Rohingya Muslims who were killed execution-style by Myanmar Police. Some of the photos showed the men on their knees, while others showed their bodies shot and hacked to pieces and laying in shallow graves.
The lance corporal sat at a table in a beer garden and told the two reporters about how the Myanmar 8th Police Battalion was attacked by Rohingya Muslims a few months prior. The lance corporal then handed Wa Lone a rolled up newspaper with documents inside. When Wa Lone took it, other men jumped out and arrested the two reporters. They were accused of possessing secret documents. They were both handed a 7-year prison sentence for violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act.
These are just four examples of how journalists have faced harassment, threats of imprisonment and even threats upon their lives for reporting injustices committed by government around the world. A free press is vital in ensuring governments remain accountable to their people. When journalists are not allowed to act independently and perform their jobs accurately, government corruption remains hidden from the public.
People around the world must be informed when governments attempt to crack down on journalists exposing the truths behind their crimes.
You can read more from Mike Ursery on Think Liberty here.