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EDITORIAL

2018, A Tough Year For Journalists

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Last year was not an easy one for journalists around the world.

Since last October, the international media has reported copiously on the gruesome killing of Saudi journalist, Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, by Saudi security agents right inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,  Turkey,  on October 2, where he had gone to process some documents in preparation for his marriage to his Turkish fiance, Hatice Cengiz.

At first, the Saudi authorities denied knowledge of his whereabouts, claiming he left the consulate alive after his visit. Later, CCTV footages of one of Khashoggi’s murderers wearing his clothes and posing as him appeared. Later, Saudi authorities  admitted that the journalist had been strangled to death during a scuffle with security officials at the consulate in a premeditated attack.

All fingers have pointed at Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the defacto ruler of the Kingdom, as the man that ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. Khashoggi had been a virulent critic of Prince Salman’s policies and had written series of opinion articles in the Washington Post.

A few days after Khashoggi’s murder, another Bulgarian journalist, Viktoria Marinova, was found dead in the country’s northern city of Ruse. Investigation revealed that she had been raped and beaten, then strangled. Marinova had been reporting on corruption involving money from the European Union.

Earlier in February, a Slovakian investigative reporter, Jan Kuciak, was shot dead in his apartment along with his fiancee. Kuciak reported on tax evasion and fraud and had been investigating the finances of people connected to the country’s ruling party.

These cases made headlines because they were in the West, but last year was generally a rough year for media workers around the world. As many as 49 journalists were killed around the world in the first six months of 2018, according to the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Death Watch. And by November 2018, at least 58 journalists had been killed for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The most dangerous country in the world for journalists was Afghanistan, where 13 members of the press were killed last year, many in terrorist attacks. Of this figure, nine were killed when a suicide bomber detonated amidst them on April 30 in Kabul while they were covering another suicide bomb attack. Two others were shot dead while on their way to work in other parts of the country.

The second was Mexico where at least seven were killed,  often in acts of violence perpetrated by drug cartels and corrupt government officials. India and the United States rank third with four journalists killed in each country.

About 155 journalists were also imprisoned, along with 142 citizen journalists and 19 media assistants last year. Turkey topped the list, jailing a whopping 250 journalists in its crackdown of the Gulen Movement and anyone who holds a different opinion from that of government on the matter. Erdogan’s government had branded the organisation a terrorist group.

Some political leaders have not helped the cause of journalists. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have often  vilified the press, while US President Donald Trump and  others have called journalists “enemies of the people.”

Often investigation into the killing of journalists are slow. In India, investigations are pending in the murders of four journalists in different parts of the country who were killed while investigating cases of corruption. In the case of Syed Shujaat Bukhari, editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir, who was killed on June 14 outside his office, the suspects had been identified but not yet brought to justice.

Journalist killings in India, Brazil, Guatemala, The Philippines, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Pakistan also await further investigation.

In Khashoggi’s killing, despite the killers being identified, the process of their prosecution has been dragging. The Saudi authorities have refused to allow an independent enquiry, especially since a top figure in the government  was implicated. Even now, the Saudis have refused to disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body which would have helped in the investigation, hinting at a possible cover-up.

Last year in Nigeria, the rights group, Human Rights Watch, criticised the security agents for creating a ‘climate of fear’ for media practice.  This followed the case of Jones Abiri who was released by the secret police, DSS, after two years in detention  without trial and the arrest of Samuel Ogundipe of the Premium Times by the police, which accused him of stealing state secrets over a factual story he filed.

These trends are a worry for the profession. Journalists everywhere are facing more persecution and threats to their lives for carrying out their constitutionally assigned roles as the fourth estate of the realm.

As a newspaper, we cannot but be worried at this unwarranted violence against media professionals  who are only trying to carry out their role of informing the public about events in their  countries and holding the government and its officials accountable to the people. Consequently, we urge state authorities to always prioritise the security of the life and property of journalists.

 


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