Impunity for crimes against journalists has continued to remain high, as governments are failing to bring perpetrators to justice, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, said ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2.
Since last October, as many as 52 journalists have lost their lives due to their work, according to the Vienna-based IPI’s Death Watch. At least 24 were killed in targeted attacks. An additional 15 cases are considered to be likely targeted attacks but remain under investigation regarding the motive. Seven other journalists were killed in Syria and one in Iraq covering armed conflict, and two died in Iraq and one in Afghanistan reporting on civil unrest. An additional two journalists were killed while on assignment. In almost half of the cases, those responsible are still at large,
An IPI analysis of these cases shows an alarmingly insufficient response by authorities to grave crimes against journalists. So far, arrests have only been made in 10 cases, five each in the Americas and Asia.
“The unbroken cycle of impunity for crimes against journalists fuels further violence against the press at a time when the free flow of news is more valuable than ever”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The failure to bring those who kill journalists to justice is unacceptable and an attack on the public’s right to receive information.”
As in the year prior, the Americas accounted for the highest number of killings with 21 journalists murdered, including eight in Mexico, five in Honduras, two each in Colombia and Venezuela, and one each in Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti and Paraguay. In Asia, 11 journalists were killed, three in the Philippines, two each in India, Indonesia and Pakistan, and one each in Cambodia and Bangladesh. In Africa, two journalists were killed in Nigeria, and one each in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. One journalist died in a targeted attack in Yemen, and another was found dead in his car in Iraq, while in Qatar, the death of an imprisoned journalist is under investigation.
In Mexico, arrests were made only in one of eight cases on IPI’s Death Watch. Despite Mexico’s being one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to work, the government there has decided to stop funds allocated for upholding the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (LPPDHP). Although underfunded, since its establishment in 2012, a federal safety mechanism had benefited over 1,200 individuals, 33 percent of whom were journalists.
In Brazil, Colombia and Honduras, the killers are still at large, while in Haiti, Paraguay and Venezuela, arrests have been made connection with the killings.
Amongst Asian countries, the Philippines has arrested suspects in two of three murders, while Indonesia has apprehended the alleged masterminds of the two killings in the country. In India, the police have arrested suspects in one case, and filed a case against the accused in another killing. The police in Pakistan have filed a case against suspects in one of two murders. However, no progress has been reported in investigations into the killings that took place in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
In Africa and the Middle East, no arrests have been reported in the seven cases on IPI’s Death Watch.
“Unfortunately, even the fact of arrests does not necessarily indicate genuine progress in an investigation into the killing of a journalist, given that all too often the only people who are arrested are the triggermen, while the masterminds remain free”, Griffen noted. “Authorities must ensure that every single person involved in the murder of a journalist is brought to justice.”
Alarmingly, little progress has been made in bringing perpetrators to justice even for the most high-profile and shocking murders in recent years. A public inquiry and trial are underway in the killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died in a car bomb explosion in 2017. Last month, a court in Slovakia acquitted the suspected mastermind behind the 2018 murder of journalist Ján Kuciak.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has made a mockery of justice in the gruesome 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. After intense international pressure, the Saudi government admitted that Khashoggi had been murdered in what it described as a “rogue operation”. However, it then charged 11 without revealing their names or their alleged role in the killing. The trial that began in March 2019 was shrouded in secrecy and despite requests by the United Nations, international observers were not allowed to attend the proceedings. In December, five of the suspects were sentenced to death (later overturned) and three others were given prison sentences, while the remaining three were exonerated.