Heat and wind on Monday were fuelling over 110 forest fires that have been burning for two weeks in Australia, where the authorities have also been alerted to a tropical cyclone off the coast.
The Queensland Bureau of Meteorology, Australia has also issued a severe storm warning for the state, reports Efe news.
“Damaging to destructive winds, large to giant hail and heavy rainfall are all possible. Storms may affect current fires burning in the area,” the bureau said on Twitter.
At least one person has died from the fires in the state of Queensland, where more than 527,000 hectares have been razed.
One of the areas that most concerns firefighters is North Stradbroke island, near Queensland’s capital Brisbane, where it is feared flames could jump to the nearby Russell and Macleay islands.
“Our greatest area of concern is still North Stradbroke Island in the south-east, just off Brisbane. We were expecting high winds today to impact that already dynamic fire,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Michael Wassing told the media.
The centre of Queensland is another area that has been of concern to the fire department, which has alerted the population of Captain Creek, located 467 km from Brisbane, to prepare for evacuation.
In the same region, firefighters urged several more communities to stay informed, and asked evacuees last week to refrain from returning home as conditions remain extremely dangerous.
The fires coincided with the formation of Cyclone Owen in the Coral Sea, more than 900 km from Cairns, in the north of Queensland, Australia
A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.
Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.
Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”
The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.
The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.
More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.
“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.
CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.
In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.
Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.
“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.
Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”
Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.
Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.
“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”
Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.
Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.
Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.
“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.
“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.
Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.
Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.
When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.