October 30, 2019

Van Hollen, Senators Seek Information about State Department Policies to Protect Journalists

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined a group of Senators in writing the State Department to seek additional information about what practices and policies are in place to assist journalists who face threats to their personal safety while reporting overseas and “to encourage the Department of State to actively protect reporters from retaliation they may experience in the countries where they work.”

In the letter, the Senators share their concern for the growing danger to journalists worldwide, noting that “journalists play a crucial role in informing and expanding public discourse, as well as holding governments accountable” and that in doing so, they face “potentially life-threatening risks from multiple sources, including conflict, disease, kidnapping, imprisonment, injury, repression, and harassment.”

The letter references the near-arrest of New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief Declan Walsh, who was alerted of his imminent detention by Egyptian authorities in 2017 by an anonymous U.S. official who “feared significant career repercussions in issuing this warning, as the Administration never intended to inform Walsh of the threat.” Walsh’s experience was also highlighted in a recent editorial authored by Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who warned that the United States has “retreated from our country’s historical role as a defender of the free press.”

Although the State Department does provide some guidance tailored to journalists traveling overseas, “these policies do not specifically address or reference Department of State processes or prescribed best practices pertaining to journalist protection, and it is unclear whether embassies globally have standard operating procedures regarding diplomatic interventions into the potential detention or harassment of a journalist.”

The Senators asked for a briefing on the State Department’s current policies by early December.

The letter is also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

The full text of the senators’ letter is available here.