World Press Freedom Day was celebrated today with a particular focus on
the use of anti-terrorism legislation to suppress critical voices – while journalists faced attacks from many sides,
writes Ricky Hunt.

“Honest and probing journalism is vital to the protection of rights and belongs to everyone,” said Maja Daruwala, Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. “All members of the Commonwealth must respect their commitment to the freedom of speech and expression. The illegitimate use of anti-terror laws to silence, intimidate and create an atmosphere of chill and censorship damages society as a whole and does not make the world a safer place. It is inexcusable.”

As if to illustrate the point, the spokesperson for one of Sri Lanka’s prominent newspapers was arrested for questioning the government, and remains detained without charge.

In Uganda, Kizza Besigye, the leader of the opposition party has been detained on suspicion of treason and terrorism for speaking out against the government on a local radio show, while in Kenya, a British journalist and his collaborator were arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity for filming the outside of a police station while shooting a documentary about the unfair treatment of Islamists in the country.

In South Africa, media groups were fighting on two fronts: challenging a move to hold a nuclear trial in secret , and testifying in Parliamentary hearings on planned changes to the Film and Publications Act which will force news media to submit to pre-publication censorship.

In a statement to mark the day, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that over 50 media professionals had lost their lives while pursuing their careers over the past year.

"Attacks on freedom of press are attacks against international law, against humanity, against freedom itself – against everything the UN stands for," said Ki-moon, referring more specifically to journalists who suffered while covering the saga in Iraq.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also indicated that 92 journalists had lost their lives in Iraq since March 2003, when the war began.