Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) receives several requests for assistance from journalists in distress. As an organisation dedicated to helping journalists and their families in times of need, CJFE does everything it can to ensure that these calls do not go unanswered, from providing financial aid to moral support. Sometimes we are even able to save the life of a journalist in distress.
CJFE helped independent Yugoslavian journalist Zdenka Acin to flee Belgrade with her 11-year-old son Stefan this spring. Among other things, CJFE appealed to the Canadian Embassy for assistance in expediting the request to get Acin, an outspoken critic of the Milosevic regime, safely out of the region. Acin praises CJFE for not being "all talk and no action." Acin says, "I wish every organisation in this world was working like yours. You really take care of people, you don't just write a letter. You are really doing something to help people. You know how to help people. You know about freedom." As well, the work CJFE does for Radio B92, a prominent independent radio station in Belgrade is so important, says Acin, because international support means so much to the people who are helped. She says, "Thank you for what you have done for Radio B92 and for all independent journalists in the former Yugoslavia and the rest of the world."
Torture in Cameroon
Another call for help came to us from Cameroonian journalist Barnabé Ariel Elouna who had suffered imprisonment, beatings and torture for publishing articles that criticised economic development in Cameroon and exposed a presidential candidate and a former minister. After being the target of numerous threats and abuse, Elouna fled to Algeria, leaving behind his wife and two-year old daughter. As a result of these traumatic experiences Elouna developed a gastric ulcer and high blood pressure requiring a five-day stay in hospital. After reviewing a request for financial aid to cover Elouna's medical expenses, CJFE is pleased to announce that it is in the process of sending money to cover all medical costs incurred during the stay in hospital.
Jailed in Congo
A request for financial assistance to help cover legal fees came to us from Congolese journalist Joseph Mbakulu Pambu Diama. President of the local chapter of the Congolese Press Union and broadcaster for the private station Radio Télévision Matadi, Diama was arrested in late November 1998 and first detained at the National Information Agency offices in Matadi. He appeared before the Court of Military Order and was charged with breaching state security for hosting a television program on which he allegedly interviewed representatives of the Congolese Rally for Democracy rebel forces. He continues to be detained under the authority of the Court of Military Order. CJFE was able to grant Diama's request for funds and has sent money to help cover lawyer's fees, medical and living expenses for his family who are finding it hard to make ends meet while Diama is imprisoned.
Exiled from Burundi
Another journalist in exile in Canada came from Burundi two years ago with CJFE's help. He also credits CJFE with saving his life, helping to get him out of a very dangerous situation. He fled Burundi, leaving his family behind and has spent the last two years trying to bring them here. After an enormous amount of bureaucratic red tape, he was finally reunited with his wife and two young daughters in July. CJFE provided financial support to bring the family to Canada from another country where they too had been living in danger. They remain anonymous for reasons of safety.
Journalists who arrive in Canada with help from CJFE and other groups find life is not as easy as they expect. CJFE is able to provide moral support, and a number of journalists and writers have joined together to form the Journalists in Exile group. Most of them are not able to find work as journalists here in Canada and have worked in construction, in factories and doing office jobs far removed from their professions. They hope to publish some of their work in their own languages and will rely on Canadian journalists and writers to support this endeavour. Anyone who would like to contribute financial or material support should please contact CJFE. Used computers and printers are in particular demand.
For more information, contact:
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression