Voice of America recently interviewed journalists from Venezuela, Egypt, Turkey, China, and elsewhere who fled from government harassment only for authorities to turn their sights on the journalists’ friends, family, and colleagues.
This VOA special project was prompted, in part, by Iran’s jailing earlier this year of VOA Persian TV host Masih Alinejad’s brother, which brought the risks to reporters’ families close to home.
The result is VOA’s newest press freedom project called “Secondary Targets: When You Can’t Punish a Journalist, Family Will Do Just Fine.”
The web and video project includes animation and interviews with 14 journalists, some of whom work at or contribute to networks of the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
Radio journalist Yutong Su is one example. She fled Beijing, where she had been under house arrest, and now lives in Germany working for Radio Free Asia, a sister organization to VOA. Since 2014, she says police in China have threatened and harassed her parents.
VOA discovered that security agents sometimes call relatives in for questioning or ask them to contact the journalist and tell them to quit reporting. Or they threaten financial repercussions: firings, loss of contracts, asset freezes. In the most egregious cases, parents and siblings have been jailed for lengthy periods without being given a reason.
Threatening journalists’ family members is a tactic that is rarely covered openly or with such depth. This extraordinary project helps expose in frightening detail the restrictions many members of the press feel in repressive countries.