Impunity Persists as Majority of Journalist Murders Occurred in Democracies

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Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of IPI
Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of IPI

In spite of the overall drop in the number of journalist killings globally, impunity persists even as majority of journalist murders over past year occurred in democracies, which are failing to protect the press, according to the Vienna-based International Press Institute’s (IPI) report titled Death Watch.

Releasing the report to mark International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, IPI says democracies around the world are failing to protect journalists and investigate killings and crimes against them.

The IPI report says as many as 40 journalists lost their lives over the past 12 months of which 25 were killed in targeted attacks in retaliation for their work, and frequently in response to reports exposing corruption or the activities of crime syndicates. Eight other journalists were killed while covering armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen and one journalist while covering civil unrest. Six other journalists died while on assignment, two in Somalia and one each in Brazil, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Ravi R. Prasad, IPI Director of Advocacy, said: “Press freedom is an essential ingredient of a vibrant democracy, but democratic governments are not merely failing to protect journalists, they are not even ensuring proper investigations into the killings in their countries. Democratic nations have to do more to protect journalists not just from being killed, but also from the online threats they are subjected to.”

IPI’s count of killed journalists includes cases in which details suggest retaliation for unwanted press coverage even when inadequate investigations are unable to establish a motive with certainty.

Ravi further said figures for 2019 show the Americas continue to be marred by “a climate of near total impunity” for the murder of journalists. “Governments across the region are failing abjectly to investigative and bring journalists’ killers to justice, leaving families in painful limbo”, he said.

The report says although there was considerable decrease in the number of journalists killed in the past year compared with the same period in 2018 during which time 100 journalists had lost their lives in relation to their work, sadly, impunity for journalist killings remained rampant as none of the killings which took place over the past year has been fully resolved, and investigations in the vast majority of cases remain tardy or nonexistent.

It cited the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, on October 2, 2018, as an example of rampant impunity for crimes against journalists noting sadly that while pressure has risen on Saudi Arabia in some corners, the Kingdom’s democratic allies have so far failed to hold it to account.

States in the Americas, the report shows face an engrained culture of impunity for the killing of journalists. Eighteen (18) journalists were reported killed, including nine in Mexico; two in Colombia, Honduras and Haiti each and one in Brazil.

The report cites one incident in Europe, which it says, champions democracy, human rights and press freedom around the world, adding there is a blight, remains complete impunity for the 2017 killing of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. By contrast, its reports that prosecutors in fellow EU member state Slovakia, November 2019, indicted the alleged mastermind and three further suspects in the February 2018 murder of investigative journalism Ján Kuciak and his fiancée.

Mexico emerged the most dangerous place for journalists to work anywhere in the world in 2019, with nine journalists killed this year. Those most at risk were those covering corruption and drug syndicates. In January, Rafael Murúa Manríquez, director of Radio Kashana, was found dead in Baja California Sur after publishing critical material about a local mayor. Nevith Condes Jaramillo, was stabbed to death after publishing stories about corruption in the local police department. And reporter Norma Sarabia, who denounced police corruption, was shot dead in Chontalpa, an area dominated by organized crime groups.

The Caribbean country of Haiti saw a spike in murders of journalists in 2019, making it one of the deadliest years in recent memory for Haitian journalists. In June, Rospide Petion, a radio reporter was shot dead by unidentified gunmen who fired on the vehicle belonging to the radio station. Rospide had reported extensively on corruption allegations against the government and regularly received threats about his work. In early October, another radio reporter, Nehemie Joseph, was found dead in his car with multiple gunshot wounds in Port-au-Prince. Nehemie had recently reported threats to his life from politicians of the ruling party. None of the killers was charged to court.

The International Press Institute (IPI) is a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists who are dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, protecting freedom of opinion and expression, promoting the free flow of news and information, and improving the practices of journalism. It has been compiling annual data on the killings of journalists since 1997 as part of its press freedom and safety of journalist programmes.