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2018: A dark year for press freedom

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Khashoggi

The year was marked by high-profile murder, including the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was allegedly killed by Saudi agents in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October. In fact, no fewer than 78 journalists were killed in 2018, according to the International Press Institute’s (IPI) Death Watch. Globally, press freedom was faced with a series of setbacks.

In Nigeria, the story is similar as Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), condemned soldiers’ brutality, which saw Port Harcourt Correspondent of Leadership, Anayo Onukwugha, brutalised. It happened on the day President Mohhamadu Buhari visited Port Harcourt to commission the International Wing of the airport.

“There is a growing movement, including in countries once seen as guarantors of fundamental rights, aimed at destroying the press as an institution of democracy”, IPI’s Executive Director, Barbara Trionfi said. “This atmosphere of intolerance toward independent journalism is putting the lives and freedom of journalists at risk and threatening the public’s right to know.”

For their work in exposing corruption or the activities of crime syndicates, no less than 22 journalists, including 11 in Afghanistan and two in Palestine, died in targeted killings last year. An additional 18 killings on IPI’s Death Watch are still under review to confirm links to journalistic activity, although circumstantial evidence in these cases points to targeted killings.

Four journalists were killed while covering conflicts or civil unrest, and another five died while on assignment. Of the 49 journalists killed last year, four were women.

Findings in the first six months show that in many cases of targeted killings of journalists, investigations are slow, and the perpetrators are yet to be brought to justice.

“The impunity with which journalists have been murdered and the slow pace of investigations raise the question whether the deaths of journalists are probed thoroughly and urgently as they should be to protect press freedom,” IPI’s Head of Advocacy, Ravi R. Prasad, said.

On February 22 last year, police found the bodies of a reporter with the news website Aktuality.sk, Ján Kuciak, and his girlfriend dead at his home in Slovakia. Kuciak, who had been investigating corruption in government, with his reporting exposing links between an Italian crime mafia and some members of the Slovak Government, was published after his death. The killing led to the resignation of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Slovak authorities are still investigating the case.

In India, investigations are still pending in the murders of four journalists in different parts of the country. These journalists, according to their media organisations, were engaged in 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, suspects have been identified but not yet brought to justice.

The deadliest country in 2018 so far is Afghanistan, where nine journalists 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.

At least seven journalists were killed in Mexico all through the year, making the country the second most dangerous in the world for the press. All those journalists appear to have been targeted for their work. Recently, IPI called on Mexican president to ensure journalists’ safety after the murder of a journalist, José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, towards the end of June.

India and the United States, according to IPI, rank third in the list with four journalists killed in each country. In India, four journalists were reportedly killed in separate cases for investigating corruption, whereas in the U.S., four journalists and a staff member of Maryland’s Capital Gazette were shot dead by a gunman on June 29.

Although there were no killings in Nigeria, journalists suffered illegal detention, and were freed by the courts, with the state security holding being fined by the courts. With election looming, what will be fate of journalists covering the elections? What will be the attitude of security operatives towards them as they discharge their sensitive duty of accurate and fair reportage of the electoral process?


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