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Weekly reads from CJR for June 17, 2021

The global repression of COVID-19 reporting

By speaking with dozens of reporters and editors around the world, Lynsey Chutel, Lauren Harris, Linda Kinstler, Tony Lin, Zainab Sultan, and Stephania Taladrid tracked how, as the coronavirus pandemic spread, repression, too, was rampant. Journalists on different continents attested to similar experiences—obfuscation, detention, threats to their livelihoods and their families—as they tried to cover a story with life-and-death stakes. 

Early last year, Chen Qiushi became one of the first citizen journalists to report from Wuhan, posting updates about the coronavirus to YouTube; within a month, his mother announced that he’d gone missing. His whereabouts remain unknown. Andrew Sam Raja Pandian—the cofounder and chief executive of SimpliCity, a hyperlocal news site in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu—was arrested for publishing stories critical of his government’s handling of the pandemic. Days after Mirzo Salimpur—the founder of Akhbor, an independent news site in Tajikistan—published a report detailing the presence of COVID-19 in his country, he learned that his outlet had been banned by official decree; later, the Tajikistani prosecutor general’s office summoned and interrogated Salimpur’s relatives. In New York, police forced George Steinmetz, a freelance photographer, to land the drone he’d been using to scout how the pandemic was disproportionately affecting the city’s poor—he suspected there would be an uptick in interments on Hart Island, the city’s burial site for the unidentified and unclaimed dead; he was charged with “avigation.”

In Zimbabwe, after Hopewell Chin’ono reported on a $60 million contract for health supplies that appeared to benefit the country’s political elite, he was arrested on charges of inciting public violence and held for forty-four days. When Sergei Satsuk, a journalist in Belarus, wrote a column critical of his government, agents searched his office and home, arrested him, and interrogated his colleagues; after ten days in jail, he was released, but he remained under surveillance. In Cuba, Mónica Baró, who writes for an independent magazine called El Estornudo, was summoned by state security for an interrogation and slammed with a fine. “The pandemic has coincided with an escalation of hostility against me,” she said. 

This project, presented on an interactive map, reflects the global nature of the coronavirus crisis. Last week it was honored by the Mirror Awards as the year’s best story on media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. —Betsy Morais, managing editor

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