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PAJ and Adil Soz build solidarity between journalists of opposing political affiliations

Kazakh journalists wore T-shirts and lit candles to express solidarity and honour fallen journalists.
Kazakh journalists wore T-shirts and lit candles to express solidarity and honour fallen journalists.

Adil Soz

IFEX members in Central Asia marked the International Day for Solidarity of Journalists on 8 September with a variety of events, including a sports competition, a report on press freedom and a candle-lighting ceremony to honour fallen journalists. In Kazakhstan, Adil Soz, the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, attempted to unite government and opposition journalists and challenge public officials with a report of attacks on the press. And in Kyrgyzstan, Public Association "Journalists" (PAJ) also focused on strengthening ties between government and opposition journalists to counter divisions created by the newspapers that are linked to different political parties.

In both countries, media owners discourage communication between journalists who work for the state and those who work for opposition newspapers.

Currently, Kyrgyzstan is in transition with parliamentary elections taking place on 10 October. (The current President holds her position until December 2011.) Because the government in Kyrgyzstan is temporary, it is difficult for journalists to build long-term cooperation with government officials in order to challenge and educate them about the rights of journalists.

In addition, recent ethnic clashes in the south damaged solidarity between journalists - a result of government policies that created the conditions for the ethnic conflict. Another challenge is that the founders of media outlets are either politicians or politically oriented businessmen. "Media for them is a tool for pursuing political interests," says PAJ. As such, PAJ called for solidarity, unity and tolerance within the journalism community.

PAJ held an athletic event where many journalists from different media outlets met for the first time. Sixty-seven journalists from 15 media outlets attended and 55 journalists, men and women, participated in the athletic competition. Journalists from different media outlets united on the same team to compete against other teams of journalists. Winners received volleyballs and footballs.

To bring greater attention to the rights of journalists to practice their profession, participants at the event received "Press" vests. Previously, there was nothing to differentiate reporters from protesters, so they were easily arrested and detained.

In Kazakhstan, Adil Soz invited public officials to a press conference where they distributed a report with statistics on press freedom violations, covering access to information problems, lawsuits against journalists and a list of Kazakh journalists killed since 2002.

The day was also marked with a special message created by Adil Soz describing the history of the International Day for Solidarity of Journalists, analysis of the free expression situation in the country and the names of journalists killed, specifically to be published by local print and electronic media. TV channels covered the press conference.

About 50 journalists attended the Almaty press conference, but none from state print and broadcast media. Adil Soz distributed T-shirts that said, "We are stronger when we are united," which journalists immediately began to wear. They gave out pens labelled with Adil Soz's name to remind journalists that they are always welcome and can receive legal support from its staff. "It was a first step for creating solidarity between journalists," says Adil Soz. T-shirts were also sent to journalists at different media outlets so they could "feel united and involved."

At the end of the press conference, journalists lit candles and held a minute of silence to honour fallen journalists.

Journalist Zhanna Baytelova, working for the "Respublika" newspaper, wrote that plainclothes members of the secret service were present.

International Day for Solidarity of Journalists is marked to remember Czech journalist Julius Fucik who was executed by the Nazis in 1943. It is a day for journalists to join forces to demand greater protection of their rights.

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