Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Helsinki Commission Leaders Cite Central Role of Media in Building Democracy

WASHINGTON – On World Press Freedom Day, the United States Helsinki Commission reiterated its strong belief that a free press is essential to building democracy and to assuring the protection of other basic human rights.

“In the past decade, more than 500 journalists have been killed while doing their jobs, and their killers are allowed to walk free, often by governments that see a free press as a direct threat to their power,” said Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

The Helsinki Commission is an independent Federal agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and officials representing the State, Defense and Commerce Departments.

“Human rights and a free press are two parts of the same whole,” said Smith. “Human rights are not safe where a free press is not a central part of society and a free press is an essential component of those societies where human rights are protected.”

Helsinki Commissioners lauded the increased global attention that has been paid to press freedom issues, noting that it has paid dividends. Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) pointed to Ukraine, where after years of stonewalling and cover-up by the regime of former Ukrainian President Kuchma, the new President Yushchenko has taken steps to resolve the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

“While recently in Ukraine, I was heartened to hear of the progress being made in investigating the Gongadze murder. I look forward to a thorough and complete investigation and the bringing to justice all those involved in ordering and perpetrating this crime,” remarked Cardin.

Because vibrant journalism plays such a central role in civil society, democratic government and the protection of human rights, Helsinki Commissioners have focused not only on oppressive governments, but also on governments that fail to protect journalists, or punish those who commit crimes against journalists.

Several examples of such victims include:
Investigative journalist Paul Klebnikov, an American of Russian descent, was editor of the Russian edition of Forbes. Klebnikov was gunned down by unidentified assailants as he left his office in Moscow on the evening of July 9, 2004. Klebnikov wrote extensively on corruption in Russia and was the author of a controversial book that appeared in 2001 on Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia’s most influential businessmen. Charges of murder have been filed against two persons in the case, and Russian authorities say the investigation is continuing. Prior to the February 2005 summit meeting in Bratislava, Commissioners implored President Bush to ask Mr. Putin to ensure that both the perpetrators and organizers of the crime be apprehended and prosecuted.

Belarusian journalist Veronika Cherkasova, of the Minsk-based opposition newspaper Solidarnost was killed in her home in Minsk on October 20. Found stabbed 20 times, Cherkasova was reportedly investigating possible arms deals by the Belarusian Government with Saddam Hussein. Recently, the Minsk City Prosecutor’s Office eliminated her son and stepfather as suspects and pledged to continue the investigation.

Currently, French journalists Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi are being held hostage in Iraq. World Press Freedom Day will mark their 118th day in captivity.

“Journalists, whether print or television or radio, are the unsung heroes of the democracy and human rights movements worldwide,” noted Smith. “It is the bright light of communication that has dispelled the shadows of oppression and brought freedom to millions.”

“I urge all governments and press organizations around the world to take a moment on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, to remember those journalists who have sacrificed so much to bring truth to the world’s darkest corners,” added Smith.

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of N...

Jun 23, 2023

Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Shutdown of Novaya Gazeta

Sep 08, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today condemned the shutdown of Novaya Gazeta in Russia, following the decision of a Moscow court to strip the outlet of its print media registration. They issued the following joint […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Calls for the Release of Political...

Aug 09, 2022

Washington – On the second anniversary of the sham presidential election in Belarus, the Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman and OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “Two years ago today, Belarus’s autocrat Aleksander Lukashenko put up a show of an election that he had hoped would legitimize his […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY AS...

Jul 21, 2022

WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of […]

screen-reader-text
Publications

HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

Jun 30, 2022

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Slams Legislation in Belarus tha...

May 20, 2022

WASHINGTON—Following the approval of legislation in Belarus that would apply the death penalty to pro-democracy activists and those opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine, and ahead of the May 21 commemoration of the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Chairman Cardin, Colleagues Introduce Resolution Cal...

May 16, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and colleagues introduced a resolution Monday honoring Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza and his work for “freedom, democracy and human rights for the people of the Russian Federation.” Kara-Murza was detained in Moscow outside of his home one month […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commissioners Lead Bipartisan Ask for Biden...

May 12, 2022

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), along with Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Commissioners Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) are urging President Joe Biden to publicly sanction […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Arrest and Detention of Vladimir Kara-Murza

May 12, 2022

Mr. President, one month ago, Russian authorities arrested Vladimir Kara-Murza, a tireless advocate for a democratic Russia and longtime Putin critic, on the street near his apartment in Moscow. While he was in detention for a fabricated administrative violation, they charged him further with ‘‘spreading deliberately false information’’ about the armed forces of Russia, which […]

screen-reader-text