Global Freedom of Expression


New landmark report calls on Media Freedom Coalition States to create an emergency visa for journalists at risk

Key Details

  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity

A new advisory report published today by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom chaired by Lord Neuberger and Amal Clooney finds that journalists face unprecedented risks to their safety and makes a number of key recommendations to States, including the introduction of an emergency visa for journalists at risk.

The publication of the report – Providing Safe Refuge for Journalists at Risk– is marked by a virtual launch event on 23 November 2020 at the International Bar Association’s (Virtually Together) Annual Conference. Speaking at the event will be report author Professor Can YeginsuLord NeubergerAmal ClooneyBaroness Helena Kennedy QCDavid McCraw of The New York Times, and Courtney Radsch of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Click here to attend the event.

Authored by leading international lawyer and member of the High Level Panel, Professor Yeginsu, the report on Providing Safe Refuge to Journalists at Risk is the third of a series of advisory reports directed to members of the 40 strong Media Freedom Coalition of States, led by the United Kingdom and Canadian Governments. The Panel is independent of government but has been tasked with providing advice to States that are committed to the protection of media freedom and the safety of journalists.

Every year, scores of journalists flee their countries to escape threats to their safety: threats that have arisen because they have performed their duties as journalists to report the truth. Leaving their home countries is often a last resort – the only way to escape politically motivated incarceration or violence. It is never a decision taken lightly, nor is it one motivated by a desire to relocate permanently.

The Report examines the present situation faced by journalists at risk, by reference to a number of case studies and an in-depth analysis of international law. It finds that the current legal pathways open to the journalist who has been left with no choice but to seek to relocate to another country are, at best, slow and difficult to navigate and, at worst, cumbersome and ineffective. This is particularly so where the need is to move swiftly in the face of an imminent threat. Many journalists are, as the Report shows, simply unable to move, with sometimes appalling consequences.

The Report concludes that it is individual States that hold the keys to safe refuge for journalists at risk. It makes the following recommendations for States to adopt:

  1. States should introduce an emergency visa for journalists at risk.
  2. In the absence of a journalist-specific emergency visa, States should commit to the expedited processing of visa applications received from journalists who are determined to be at risk.
  3. In the absence of a journalist-specific emergency visa, States should provide an opportunity for journalists at risk making visa applications to provide information on issues of character and security that may arise (as often do for journalists subject to criminal investigation or charges for their work), and ensure that such visa applications are assessed fairly and accurately in the light of that, and other available, information.
  4. States should commit to granting visas to immediate family members/dependents of journalists at risk who are granted visas.
  5. States should issue travel documents to relocated journalists at risk if their home countries move to revoke or cancel their passports.
  6. States should permit refugee protection visa applications to be made by journalists at risk, from within their home State.
  7. States should make clear in their domestic law that journalists at risk can fall within the definition of a ‘refugee’ for the purposes of the Refugee Convention, or otherwise qualify for international protection.
  8. INTERPOL should require States seeking the issuance of a Red Notice to specify whether the subject of the notice sought is a journalist and, if it is, INTERPOL should conduct a robust Article 3 assessment regarding that individual before reaching a decision on whether or not to issue the Red Notice.
  9. Signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom should nominate ‘regional champion’ States, for two-year terms, to spearhead efforts in the provision of safe refuge for journalists at risk.

The Report’s publication comes a week after the Media Freedom Coalition’s first ministerial communique, which called on all State Members of the Coalition to consider ‘providing safe refuge for journalists at risk who have been targeted for their work’.

Professor Yeginsu’s Report and recommendations have received widespread endorsement by, inter alia: the Panel itself, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) as well as:

  • The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
  • Reporters without Borders (RSF);
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ);
  • ARTICLE 19;
  • English PEN, PEN International, and PEN America;
  • Media Defence;
  • Freedom House;
  • The Association of European Journalists;
  • Rights and Security International;
  • Free Press Unlimited;
  • The Rory Peck Trust;
  • The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights;
  • Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM);
  • Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE);
  • Commonwealth Journalists Association; and
  • Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University.

Professor Can Yeginsu, Barrister, member of the Panel, and the Report’s author remarked: ‘There is a clear gap in the international legal protection for journalists who put themselves at risk to bring us the truth. States can bridge that gap, with little if any attendant political cost, by creating an emergency visa for journalists at risk and by making a few modest adjustments to the existing framework for safe relocation. I welcome the priority the Media Freedom Coalition has given to this issue in its recent ministerial communiqué. It is now time for words to be followed by deeds: the High Level Panel has made clear recommendations in this area which, if implemented, could have an enormous impact in strengthening media freedom, an essential pillar of a free and democratic society.’

The Rt Honourable Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, Panel Chair and former President of the UK Supreme Court, added: ‘The root evil that underlies so many illegitimate abuses of media freedom is, as Professor Yeginsu’s valuable Report shows all too clearly, the ultimate threat of violence to journalists and their families. Affirming the need and importance to respect and ensure media freedom globally is easy to do with words, but that is plainly not enough. The key recommendation of this Report is the creation of an emergency visa for journalists at risk, which offers an effective way whereby any government can help to ensure that journalists at risk have safe, reliable, and effective pathways to safety.’

Ms Amal Clooney, Barrister and Deputy Chair of the Panel commented: ‘Every year hundreds of journalists are murdered or imprisoned for their work. At least some could have been saved if democratic countries had provided a pathway out of harm’s way. I am proud to launch the Panel’s third report, which recommends that States provide emergency visas to journalists at risk of physical harm or arbitrary detention. The report, authored by leading barrister and human rights expert Can Yeginsu, highlights concrete legislative and policy initiatives that States can take to support journalists at risk. All of the Panel reports this year relate to improving the enforcement of international legal protections that exist on paper but need to be given effect by governments. Our aim is to bring to life the commitment made by 173 governments that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in doing so promised to protect freedom of the press. So we look forward to hearing the response of States – particularly the members of the Media Freedom Coalition – to these compelling recommendations.’

Footage of the event will shortly be available on the IBA website


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to download a PDF of Providing Safe Refuge for Journalists at Risk.
  2. The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom is an independent body comprised of 15 internationally renowned lawyers and jurists that was convened in July 2019, by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, at the request of the UK and Canadian governments. The Panel’s remit is to provide advice and recommendations to governments, including to the members of the Media Freedom Coalition, with a view to preventing and reversing abuses of media freedom around the world.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies in the world. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world’s bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide. IBAHRI acts as the Secretariat to the Panel. For more information, visit here.
  5. The Media Freedom Coalition was formed in July 2019 and is a partnership of 40 States working together to advocate for media freedom and the safety of journalists where they are under threat.
  6. Report Author, Professor Can Yeginsu, is a barrister practising international law and human rights law from 4 New Square Chambers in London and teaching international law at Columbia Law School in New York and Georgetown University Law Center in Washington D.C. He is currently acting as International Counsel, with Amal Clooney, for award-winning journalist Maria Ressa, and is representing the Wikimedia Foundation in a landmark challenge to an access ban on Wikipedia in the European Court of Human Rights.
  7. For news updates, visit the IBAHRI on Twitter here:

For further information, please contact:

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Can Yeginsu

Barrister, practising from 3 Verulam Buildings, UK