Hundreds of journalists have been killed around the world in the past decade, with nine out of ten cases going unpunished, the UN and independent press freedom groups said in statements marking the first-ever International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2nd
More than 700 journalists have been killed in the last ten years only for doing their job, the UN said, stressing the need for stronger efforts to protect the safety of journalists and ensuring that crimes committed against them get punished.
"No journalist anywhere should have to risk their life to report the news," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a special message on November 2nd. "A free and open press is part of the bedrock of democracy and development."
The dire outcome of letting murderers of journalists walk free is that criminals are emboldened, while reporters have no choice but to exercise self-censorship. "People are scared to speak out about corruption, political repression or other violations of human rights. This must stop," Ban stressed.
Officials and experts view impunity as one of the most important reasons for scores of journalists being killed every year, as well as one of the biggest threats to press freedom. Political will is essential to ending impunity, they stress.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted in a recent report that governments argue that the executive has no powers over the judiciary, insisting that the lack of justice for the killings is the tip of the iceberg and that the real issues are the widespread corruption and other major problems bedevilling the system.
"It is true that insecure or dysfunctional environments seed impunity, but CPJ has seen repeatedly that lack of political will to prosecute is the most prevalent factor behind the alarming numbers of unsolved cases," the U.S. based independent, non-profit press freedom group said. "States too often show that they are unwilling, not simply unable, to pursue justice when it comes to journalist killings," it added in the report, The Road to Justice: Breaking the Cycle of Impunity in the Killing of Journalists.
A shocking picture
The CPJ, which has been documenting every instance of the killing of journalists for their work anywhere in the world since 1992, commissioned the paper to mark the inaugural UN International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The report analyzes the trends from murders committed between January 1st 2004 and December 31st 2013, taking into consideration only those cases where it was determined with reasonable certainty that the victims were deliberately targeted in connection to their work as journalists.
"The numbers paint a shocking picture," the CPJ said in the study, which found that while international attention to the issue has grown over the past ten years, it has failed to translate into a tangible reduction in the rates of impunity worldwide.
"In the decade from 2004 through 2013, 370 journalists have been murdered in direct retaliation for their work. The vast majority were local journalists reporting on corruption, crime, human rights, politics and war, among other issues of vital importance to their societies. In 90 percent of all these cases there has been total impunity - no arrests, no prosecutions, no convictions. In some cases, the assassin or an accomplice has been convicted; in only a handful is the mastermind of the crime brought to justice," the organization said.
In 2008, the CPJ launched its annual Global Impunity Index, which calculates murders for which no convictions of any suspects have taken place, as a percent of a country's population. Its new report named as "greatest offenders" ten countries that have appeared on the Index every year since its inception. Iraq, which led the table, was followed by Somalia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Afghanistan, Russia, Mexico, Pakistan and India.
Sokratis, Bardhyl, Cihan, and the others
Among the unsolved murders of Southeast European (SEE) journalists committed over the past decade is that of Sokratis Giolias, 37, who was shot dead outside his home in the Greek capital's Ilioupolis suburb in the early morning of July 19th 2010. He was an investigative journalist, the director of Thema Radio and founder of the popular news website Troktiko, which was closed after the incident. The suspected perpetrators - two or three men in police uniforms - remain at large. Ballistics tests showed that the killers' handguns matched those used by the Sect of Revolutionaries, a domestic radical leftist organization. Giolias's colleagues said at the time that he had been working on an investigative report on corruption and was about to publish it when he was killed.
"Somebody wanted to silence a very good investigative reporter who had stepped on a lot of toes with his stories," Panos Sobolos, president of the Athens journalists' union at the time, told Reuters back in July 2010.
Other murders committed in the past decade in the SEE region that have gone unpunished include those of Kosovo journalist Bardhyl Ajeti, 28, and of Turkey's Cihan Hayırsevener, 53.
Ajeti, who was working for Pristina-based Bota Sot daily, died in hospital in Milan, Italy, in late June 2005 as a result of injuries sustained in a drive-by shooting earlier the same month. He was known to have supported the international authorities' 2002 campaign to arrest former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
Founder and editor of Turkey's Güney Marmara'da Yaşam daily, Hayırsevener died in a hospital in Bursa on December 19th 2009 after being shot three times in the leg earlier that day as he was walking to his office in the town of Bandirma, northeast of Istanbul. One of the topics he wrote about was corruption.
The murders of three SEE editors-in-chief - of Dusko Jovanović of Podgorica-based daily Dan in May 2004, of Hrant Dink of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos in January 2007 and of Ivo Pukanić of Croatia's Nacional weekly in October 2008 - were listed in the CPJ report among the cases with partial impunity.
The paper also includes a special section on Serbia's efforts to solve cases of killings of journalists dating back to the times of the former Yugoslavia. Those include the murders of investigative reporter Radoslava Dada Vujasinović (1994), of influential independent newspaper owner Slavko Ćuruvija (1999) and of crime reporter Milan Pantić (2001). A special commission was set up and the three cases were reopened.
"In Ćuruvija's case, four suspects have been charged, with the journalist's criticism of the holders of political power and ability to influence public opinion cited as motives for the crime," the CPJ said. "Two were arrested this year. A third, the former national security chief Radomic Marković, is already in prison for the 2000 assassination of the politician Ivan Stambolić. The fourth suspect is being sought outside the country."
Noting that "the commission's work is not finished," the CPJ believed that "its beginnings are encouraging".
Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE's media freedom representative, noted in a statement on October 30th that "the political will to confront the issue of impunity is simply too low, and in some cases non-existent. Stern rhetoric is not enough, concrete action is necessary to break the cycle of impunity."
This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. The project's page: Safety Net for European Journalists.A Transnational Support Network for Media Freedom in Italy and South-east Europe.
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