On the International Day to End Impunity, the International Federation of Journalists and its affiliates launches its annual campaign to end impunity for crimes against journalists. The campaign, which will run from November 2 to November 23, demands authorities denounce crimes targeting journalists and take urgent steps to put an end to impunity and protect press freedom.
Over the past decade, IFJ reports show 998 journalists have been killed, including 30 so far in 2020. Since 1990, 2,644 journalists have lost their lives. These horrifying figures are concrete evidence of the huge efforts of those in power to hide the truth and silence dissenting voices. This year, the IFJ is emphasising five countries where the level of impunity remains significantly high and threatens media freedom: Yemen, Russia, Mexico, Somalia and India.
The Asia Pacific region, in particular, has experienced disturbing levels of impunity in crimes against journalists. Weak institutional mechanisms, corruption and lack of political will are key factors reported by the IFJ in delaying and denying justice to crimes committed against journalists.
Despite 14 journalist murders in the South Asia region, in targeted killings, crossfire attacks and bombings, most killings remain unresolved. The toll includes seven Pakistani journalists murdered in the year to date, three journalists in Afghanistan, three in India journalists and one journalist in Bangladesh. The latter, Elias Mia, a correspondent of Daily Bijoy, was hacked to death on October 12 by miscreants in Narayanganj district for allegedly exposing a criminal nexus in gas line distribution.
Many of the accused involved in the killings and attacks in South Asia are from armed militant groups, government agencies, security forces, political party members, religious sects, student political groups, criminal gangs and local mafias. In the Maldives, while there were great hopes for the resolution of the long-running cases involving the murders of journalists and bloggers Ahmed Rilwan in 2014 and Yameen Rasheed in 2017, 2020 failed to deliver long-awaited justice.
Similarly, in South East Asia, the majority of murders and attacks on journalists in the field remain unsolved, with perpetrators going unpunished. In Indonesia, there are eight journalist murders which remain under a cloak of darkness. One victim Fuad Muhammad Syafriuddin was a Bernas Daily journalist in Yogyakarta who was killed on August 1996, reporting on a high-profile corruption case in Bantul, Yogyakarta. Distburbingly, after more than two decades, his case remains unsolved.
According to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia, there are eight journalist killings which remain unexplained. Abdul Manan, the chairman of AJI Indonesia said the culture of impunity must end. “We have seen increasing attacks against journalists and only a few of them were brought to trial. Many of the perpetrators of the attacks are police. It is important to solve the cases of violation against journalists and bring the mastermind to the trial,” Manan added.
In the Philippines, 17 journalists have been murdered during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency. None of these cases have been resolved. The last case was the killing of journalist Jobert “Polpog” Bercasio, who was shot dead as he was riding a scooter in Sorgoson City in the evening of September 14. Bercasio, a former radio reporter who ran his own Balangibog TV channel on social media, was killed by two gunmen riding in tandem on a motorcycle. He hosted a program broadcast via Facebook live and commented on social issues, including illegal logging. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has released a statement condemning the killing and calling on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, the world’s worst single-day murder of media workers in history when 32 journalists were killed, is also yet to be fully realised. The remains of the 58th victim Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay Jr are still yet to be located, despite a decade of investigation. In the Philippines and elsewhere, continued inaction by governments to act on journalist killings continues to undermine justice, democracy and journalism.
The South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) said: “We call on authorities in the region to take those unsolved cases seriously. We have to end the pandemic of impunity and bring justice for the victims.”
The South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) said “Governments and authorities are failing journalists and, by default, they are failing democracy. When journalist killers go unpunished, impunity runs rife and killers roam free. The overall impact on the public’s right to know cannot be measured. One life silences a whole society in ways that cannot be calculated.”
The IFJ said: “The IFJ denounces the lack of political will to prosecute all crimes against journalists. On the occasion of International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the IFJ and its affiliates across the region urge governments to expedite the impartial and timely investigation on crime against all the journalists and to ensure justice is swift.”