CPJ`s 2013 Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free
Published May 2, 2013
Rocked by militants in the north and politically inspired aggression nationwide, Nigeria has become one of the worst nations in the world for deadly, unpunished violence against the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in its newly updated Impunity Index. The global index, which calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country`s population, also found soaring impunity rates in Somalia, Pakistan
, and Brazil.
Investigations into these killings are usually carried out with sloppiness, and no real culprits are caught, said Ayode Longe, a senior officer with the Media Rights Agenda, a press freedom group in Nigeria, where at least five journalists have been murdered in direct relation to their work since 2009. None of the cases has been solved. That has emboldened others to assault journalists, believing nothing would be done to them, Longe said. Nigeria, which had previously experienced a decade of relative security for journalists, joined the index for the first time this year, ranked as the 11th worst in the world in combating deadly anti-press crime.
CPJ`s analysis found improving conditions in Nepal, which dropped off the index entirely, and in Russia
, which has had one of the world`s most deeply entrenched cultures of impunity. Although both nations remain dangerous for the press, both have seen a general decline in deadly anti-press violence and a handful of partly successful prosecutions in journalist murders.
The Impunity Index, published annually, identifies countries where journalists are murdered regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. The 2013 index examines journalist murders that occurred from January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2012, and remain unsolved. Only nations with five or more unsolved cases are listed. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been won. There are 12 countries on the index this year.
The release of CPJ`s 2013 index comes at a pivotal moment in the global struggle against impunity. A U.N. plan to combat deadly anti-press violence gets under way this year, with Pakistan being an early focal point. Among its many measures, the plan aims to strengthen journalist safety programs and assist member states in developing ways to prosecute the killers of journalists.
CPJ`s analysis found intensifying anti-press violence in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil with the circumstances exacerbated by national leaders` unwillingness or inability to address the problem. Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed has asked the international community to have faith in his country`s judicial system, but 23 journalist murders have gone unsolved over the past decade in the country, ranked second worst on the index. Somali authorities have sent contradictory law enforcement messages in recent months, offering rewards for the killers of journalists but imprisoning a reporter for two months on spurious charges that he insulted the government by interviewing a woman who said she was raped by soldiers.
Killing a journalist does not look like a crime in the eyes of the Somali security forces and judiciary, said Abukar Albadri, director of Badri Media Productions, an independent news production company in the country.
Brazil, which has a long history of anti-press violence, seemed to have turned the corner as recently as 2010, when it briefly dropped off CPJ`s Impunity Index because of declining attacks and a number of successful prosecutions. But a three-year spree of murders many targeting provincial bloggers and online reporters, and all unsolved has shown the gains there to have been illusory. Brazil is ranked 10th worst on the index.
Members of the police and judiciary, especially in small cities, are highly vulnerable to pressure from powerful local groups, said Veridiana Sedeh of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism. There are even cases in which law enforcement officials themselves commit the crimes and subsequently hamper the investigation.
Anti-press violence has spiraled upward in Pakistan over the past five years, propelling the country into the eighth worst spot on the index, CPJ`s analysis found. Although extremists and criminals pose serious risk, CPJ research shows that Pakistani political and intelligence operatives routinely target the press for attack. Police and prosecutors, in turn, face such severe political intimidation that they have been rendered incapable of prosecuting the crimes effectively.
The main reason for impunity is lack of government will to prosecute those that attack journalists, said Owais Aslam Ali, head of the Pakistan Press Foundation. It only takes a few successes to show impunity won`t be tolerated.
But one case in Pakistan, the 2011 murder of Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar, shows how difficult that can be when the rule of law has broken down. Several suspects connected to one of the country`s leading political parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, are facing trial, but the prosecution has been derailed by the murders of five people connected to the investigation, including witnesses and police officers. In November 2012, an eyewitness was gunned down two days before he was due to give testimony.
The Maguindanao trial has been marred by attacks on witnesses. (AFP/Jay Directo)
The insecurity of witnesses is a key problem in addressing impunity. Authorities in the Philippines, ranked third worst on CPJ`s index, have yet to make headway in the prosecution of dozens of suspects in a politically motivated massacre in Maguindanao province that claimed the lives of more than 50 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in 2009. Three witnesses in the Maguindanao case have themselves been murdered, one of them dismembered and mutilated.
Each time a witness is killed, it affects the morale of other witnesses by showcasing how inept the government is in ensuring their safety, says Michaella Ortega. She knows the cycle of intimidation and impunity well: The investigation into the 2011 murder of her father, prominent radio host Gerardo Ortega, was dealt a severe setback when a key witness was killed in jail.
CPJ`s analysis found that journalist murders have slowed in Iraq, Sri Lanka
, Mexico, Colombia, and Afghanistan five Impunity Index countries with long records of deadly, anti-press violence. Despite the decline in murders, however, deep problems remain in each nation. Iraq is still the worst nation on CPJ`s Impunity Index, with more than 90 unsolved journalist murders over the past decade and no sign that authorities are working to solve any of them. While some murders occurred in the anarchy of sectarian violence during the U.S.-led war, many cases could be solved today if authorities demonstrated the will. In Kirkuk, for example, assailants shot freelance writer Soran Mama Hamma in 2008 shortly after he had exposed police complicity in the local prostitution trade.
Although Colombia has had modest success in solving murders, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Mexico have failed completely in the prosecution of numerous past slayings. These law enforcement failures often lead to another pernicious problem: widespread self-censorship. In Mexico, ranked seventh worst on the index, journalists across the country have told CPJ that they avoid coverage of crime and corruption in order to stay alive. Mexican journalists, many of us mothers
_day.jsp' class=black>mothers and fathers, do not want to be silent but we do not want to die either, investigative reporter Anabel Hern ndez wrote in a November 2012 letter to U.N. delegates, urging them to take action in Mexico under the new anti-impunity plan. Mexican officials did take some significant steps of their own in the past year, adopting a constitutional amendment that gives federal authorities broader authority to prosecute anti-press crimes.
This year`s index points to other improvements, although they were tempered by lingering problems. Nepal has prosecuted several suspects, though not the masterminds, in the 2009 case of Uma Singh, the last Nepali journalist murdered in connection to her work. But new doubts were raised about the Maoist party`s commitment to reversing the culture of impunity when then-Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai objected this year to the arrests of several former party cadres suspected in the 2004 murder of journalist Dakendra Thapa.
Pavlyuchenkov, a former police official, did not identify his co-conspirators in open court. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)
In Russia, ranked ninth worst on the index, prosecutors won the conviction of a former police official on conspiracy charges related to the 2006 slaying of renowned investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya. While the conviction was a landmark, colleagues and relatives were dismayed that defendant Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov did not have to identify the masterminds in open court, a development they believe diminishes the odds that all of the conspirators will be brought to justice.
The sentencing of Pavlyuchenkov demonstrated progress in one momentous case, but let`s not forget that he never identified the masterminds. So, justice is still half-done said Galina Sidorova, who heads the Foundation for Investigative Journalism in Russia. The climate of impunity is still here.
Among the other findings in CPJ`s Impunity Index:
Ten of the 12 countries on the Impunity Index have been listed each year since CPJ began the annual analysis in 2008. Only Nigeria, which is new to the index this year, and Brazil, which had a one-year absence from the index, are exceptions. The static nature of the list highlights the challenges in reversing entrenched impunity and high rates of anti-press violence.
In addition to Nepal, two other nations Bangladesh and Sierra Leone have dropped off the Impu...