The Committee to Protect Journalists has asked President Barack Obama to make sure press freedom is on the agenda when he meets with the leaders of 10 Southeast Asian countries at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in California Feb. 15.
In a letter to the President dated Friday (Feb. 12), CPJ executive director Joel Simon said that Southeast Asia was home "to some of the world's most repressive media regimes, where journalists face constant threats of censorship, intimidation, physical assault and imprisonment for doing their jobs."
He pointed to various trouble spots, most notably Vietnam, where six bloggers are imprisoned for their journalism, and the "vague and broad" censorship of Thailand's military junta. Simon said CPJ was also troubled by "recent restrictions imposed on foreign media in Laos ahead of its assumption of ASEAN's rotational chairmanship."
"While we recognize ASEAN's growing economic and strategic importance to U.S. interests," he told the President, "we strongly believe enhanced ties with individual ASEAN states and the collective grouping will be best forged in a media environment where journalists are free to report without fear of reprisal."
He said the leaders should get the message that the summits "handshakes and photo opportunities" won't come for free, but "with an expectation of promoting more freedom throughout the region."
"As your government pursues strategic relations with [ASEAN]," he said, "a diplomatic effort launched under your leadership, we ask that you prioritize improvements in press freedom as a precondition for developing stronger ties with individual member states as well as the collective grouping."