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Reportagen Festival These journalists fled to Switzerland because of their work

A journalist covers her face

A journalist covering the protests in Hong Kong is forced to withdraw after the police use tear gas

(Reuters / Kim Kyung Hoon)

Journalists from Colombia, Yemen and Azerbaijan came to Switzerland to escape persecution in their home countries. They tell what it was like to report at home, and what their work means to them.

Attacks on the freedom of the press is one of the subjects under discussion at the Reportagen Festival Bern,external link for which swissinfo.ch is the media partner. Before the festival we spoke to three journalists who have experienced first-hand in their home countries what it means when freedom of thought and freedom of the press are not respected.

Grief and rage

Sergio Camilo left Colombia after receiving death threats – not just by telephone and email, but also face-to-face. He applied for political asylum in Switzerland in 2018. A final decision has not yet been reached. So for the time being, he is unable to work.

Firas Shamsan from the Republic of Yemen was ordered to leave the country permanently if he wanted to stay alive. Shamsan left his exile in Malaysia in early 2019 and under the Writers in Exile programme, he came to Switzerland, where he receives a grant and can live, work and publish.

Yemen lurks almost at the bottom of a press freedom ranking compiled by the international organisation Reporters Without Borders – 168th out of 180 countries.

Independent undercover journalism

Lachin Mamishov from Azerbaijan has also been threatened and injured because of his research into the Caucasus conflict of the early 1990s. Afraid of being arrested, he emigrated to Georgia. In 2015 he came to Switzerland, where he quickly obtained political asylum and works today as a video-blogger and documentary film-maker. Mamishov says independent journalists can only work undercover in Azerbaijan.

​​​​​​​The Chinese are silent

We would have liked to talk to a journalist from China, too. But unfortunately, no one was willing to speak to us. It’s “too sensitive” to take a position on the subject of press freedom in China, we heard. People fear reprisals – not just against themselves but also against their families.

swissinfo.ch has experienced China’s heavy censorship directly. The Chinese-language internet site of swissinfo.ch is more-or-less inaccessible in China. The official reason for this given by the Chinese Embassy is “technical difficulties".

Wu Qi, a Chinese journalist, will take part in a panel discussion on the subject of “Un-free Press” at the Reportagen Festival Bern. We are looking forward to hearing what he says. SWI swissinfo.ch is broadcasting the panel discussion live on Saturday, August 31, from 1.15am (CET).

Freedom of the press in Switzerland, which is guaranteed by the constitution, ranks highly in international comparisons. In the Reporters Without Borders rankings, Switzerland occupies 6th place out of 180. One of few critical points is that Swiss authorities are too restrictive in giving access to the public administration’s internal documents.

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Translated from German by Catherine Hickley

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SWI swissinfo.ch on Instagram

SWI swissinfo.ch on Instagram

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