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Journalism, act of risk

In 2009;

  • 76 journalists killed (60 in 2008)
  • 33 journalists kidnapped
  • 573 journalists arrested
  • 1456 physically assaulted
  • 570 media censored
  • 157 journalists fled their countries
  • 1 blogger died in prison
  • 151 bloggers and cyber-dissidents arrested
  • 61 physically assaulted
  • 60 countries affected by online censorship

These are the numbers that proves how dangerous and risky one of the world’s most important job is. I’m referring to the attack on Afghan journalist and author, Abdul Razzaq Mamoon who was returning home on January 18 when a masked man attacked him with a knife and sprayed Mamoon with acid on his face and hands. Mamoon, a former Radio Free Afghanistan and now Editor in Chief of Bost Bastaan News Agency, was saved his eyes from serious injuries by wearing his glasses at the time of the attack.

Mamoon, a native from Northern Panj Shir, is known for his controversial political views, says he is sure that the attack was in relation to his latest book; “In footprint of Pharaoh”, which is critical of Teheran’s policies towards Afghanistan and that they are seeking the disintegration of the Afghan Nation. Iran showed their dissatisfaction as the Iranian embassy invited the publisher of the book to the embassy “to answer some questions”. Hamid Karzai has condemned the attack and offered to send Mamoon abroad for medical treatment at the same time as he has urged law-enforcement agencies to investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Besides the threat the journalist’s experience, the risk to local journalists and especially to those journalists who work within the borders of their country has risen but we notice more of the crime against them because of Western-based international observer groups that updates. From 1992, 72% of 831 journalists was killed while they were on duty according to data from New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), such as killed by a gunman escaping on the back of a motorcycle, shot or stabbed to death near their home or office, or found dead after having been abducted and tortured.

Unsolved crimes and cold cases

In most of the attacks, the killer gets away with the murder in 9 out of 10 cases and in 89% of journalist murders worldwide, there has been little or no prosecution but only in 4% of the murder cases, the assassin and those who ordered the hit has been brought to justice. To give us an estimate of this global problem, CPJ has developed an Impunity Index where the index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the specific nation’s population. The latest Impunity Index covers the years 2000 through 2009. (CPJ figures are also provided by Reporters without borders and Brussel based Federation of journalists. When it comes to journalist murders, CPJ includes only those cases where researchers have investigated the murder of a journalist murdered in relation to his/her work. http://www.cpj.org/reports/2010/04/cpj-2010-impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php

Afghan scholars and journalists

Since 2002, 20 Afghan journalists have been murdered and more than 200 violent physical attacks against journalists have been reported. Some have fled the country with their families, others arrested, sentenced to death and several more still remains in jail today. Radio and television stations have rapidly been attacked, blocked, damaged and burned to the ground by the government and other agents or groups.

Kamran Mir Hazar, founder of Kabulpress.org, was granted political refugee status by the UN and he settled in Norway, where he also wrote the book, “Censorship in Afghanistan”, published in Norway as e-Book. Book was written in Dari and explores the systematic suppression of free speech. Kamran experienced when he founded Kabulpress.org aimed to reveal corruption in the Afghan government and the NGO’s that miss-handled millions of development dollars. Because of him being outspoken, Kamran was detained several times by government agents as well as receiving numerous times of warnings.

A Radio Free Europe (RFE/RL) report states that Afghanistan’s independent media sector has grown hugely since the fall of Taliban in late 2001 but the intolerance still remains as the journalists and media workers, especially women are regularly target of threats and harassment from former warlords and conservative people. It’s concerning numbers on such intellectual people that worries the global world. Here is a list over the 8 most prominent journalists that have been receiving death threats.

Razaq Mamoon

Razaq Mamoon is one of Afghanistan’s best known writers and journalists. He worked for BBC as a journalist, was editor of Radio Azadi and hosted a program called “discussion” for Tolo TV. Here he challenged high ranking officials like finance minister Anwarhulhaq Ahadi which led to pressure from Karzai’s team and the president of the lower house of parliament. Tolo TV and its managers discharged Mamoon after this. He has authored 3 books, “Raz-e-Khabida”, a documented story about Dr. Najibullah, the late communist president, who was under U.N. protection at the time of his abduction and murder by a member of the Taliban.“Zelzela”, meaning earthquake, and last “In the footprints of Pharaoh”. In his last book Mamoon criticizes Iran’s policies towards Afghanistan, and also the book that led to the recent attack with acid sprayed in his face. Razaq Mamoon receives death threats on a regular basis from different sources. One episode is where the alleged murderer of Dr. Najibullah, Gharzai Khakhogi, was incriminated by documents in Mamoon’s book and planned to murder him. Khakhogi was working as the vice-mayor in Kabul and allegedly paid two terrorists to kill Mamoon but security organizations discovered the plot before it could be done.

Mir Ali Asghar Akbarzada

Akbarzada had a well-known program called “Mirror of the city” on Afghan national TV, but was fired from the network in August 2008 by cultural minister Karim Khoram. The reason behind this was that Akbarzada had exposed corruption regarding the Intercontinental Hotel involving high ranking officials such as national security advisor to the president, Zalmay Rasool, and commerce minister Mohammad Amin Farhang. President Karzai had granted a no-bid contract to operate the hotel to a company called Freecom for 30 years at $100,000.00 each year and for 4 years, The Intercontinental Hotel was contracted by Freecom costing millions of dollars in lost government revenue. He is unemployed now and was threatened by gunmen several times being targeted near the office of chief police in Kabul, but the attack was unsuccessful.

Mohammad Amin Haqjoo

Mohammad Amin Haqjoo is the director of the program on Afghan National TV called “Seeking the truth” where they follow cases of murders and kidnapping. For this, Haqjoo has been threatened several times by armed groups.

Mohammad Hakim Nazari Paryani

Paryani worked as news editor for “Payman” newspaper. After publishing a document in “Payman”, writing that Mullah Omar had a hand in killing Mullah Dadullah, he was threatened so much that he had to live in his office and at a friend’s house for 15 days. Unknown people have visited his house, asking for him and he is worried about the safety of his family.

Mobarak Shah Shahram

Shahram has worked for Tolo TV on a political satire program named “Lahzaha” but works currently for “Payman” newspaper. Very recently, Shahram was tried kidnapped while returning home in a taxi.

Sayed Nasir Taghadosi

After publishing several critical articles about Karzai’s cabinet and the deteriorating political situation in the newspaper “Omid e Farda”, government attorneys opened a case against him that led to that he no longer can find job in the government or in NGO organizations as he faces financial difficulties.

Zahra Moosawi

Ms. Moosawi was a news announcer on Tolo TV, but after receiving various and continuing threats, she is now afraid to leave her home and had to quit Tolo TV.  Before working in Tolo TV, Ms. Azadi worked for Radio Azadi for 5 years and had a program called “Morabay e Morch”.

Soheila Weda Khamoosh

Ms. Khamoosh works for the newspaper “Cheragh” and some years ago, she wrote an article about how security services tortured children detained at a demonstration in Kabul against Americans. This article got her detained in the general’s office for 30 minutes where she was threatened with violence if the article got published. After publishing it, Ms. Khamoosh received threatening phone calls and followed by cars without licence plate following the car she was sitting in. as she was preparing a report on document forgery in the office of Official Reform, Jamila Aman, an advisor in the office attacked her. She continues receiving threats from unknown people and cars with blacked our windows regularly follow her on the street.

In June 2007, Zakia Zaki, the head of Peace Radio, who had been threatened by warlords for criticizing them and the Taliban, shot dead in front of her 2 year old son in the Northern Province of Parwan. Zaki had run the radio since it was founded in 2001 and worked as the head of a local school. Sada-e-Sulh (Peace Radio) was the only independent radio in Parwan province broadcasting on important issues such as human rights, education and women’s rights. In an interview in 2002 to Radio Free Europe, Zaki told that she had received death threats from several Mujahedin chiefs and local leaders of the Jamiat-e-Islami had banned her from interviewing women in the streets. This murder followed the murder of Shakiba Sanga Amaj, a reporter working for Pashtu channel Shamshad TV. Some suspects were arrested for the murder.

Who is behind all these murders and threats? The shocking truth is that government officials have killed almost as many as terrorist or political movements and groups, and if we add government supported paramilitary groups to the list of murders, then they have killed more journalists than any other terrorist or anti-government groups.

Parwiz Kambakhsh, 20 year old student and journalist was sentenced to death and then the death sentence was changed to 20 years in prison, but he has been freed and now left Afghanistan. It is unlikely that he will return because of the threats to him and his family for alleged “blasphemy”. His imprisonment sparked an international pressure from governments around the world as others wondered why they were supporting a country that violated international standards for freedom of speech and women’s rights. Karzai was caught in the middle as many fundamentalists wanted to keep the young journalist behind bars and others who question the president’s authority.

The most dangerous countries to work as a Journalist

CPJ has given result on numbers that anti-governmental political groups and movements, including terrorist organizations for 30% or 180 cases out of 599 murders since 1992. Civilian government official’s as perpetrators of 24% of journalist murders, military government officials responsible for 5% and pro-government paramilitary groups responsible for 7% or 41 murders over the same period. The murderers don’t only kill to silence the journalists, but they send out a message to others that they or their family members will be next. Even though many has been warned before killed, there is also those who has been murdered without a warning. Times and trends has also switched as in 1980’s, many journalists were murdered as they covered human right abuses but in the past two decades, more journalists have lost their lives while reporting on corruption like collusion between government actors and organized crime.

Another Impunity Index developed by CPJ in 2008 shows us the 12 countries where journalists are regularly murdered. As many of the cases are solvable, the perpetrators have been identified but authorities don’t have the political will to prosecute the case.

Iraq

The deaths of the 88 journalists over the last 10 years stay unsolved making Iraq nr 1 for the 3rd year in a row.

Somalia

Journalists are regularly threatened by Al-Shabaab insurgents and government troops. The weak federal government has failed in prosecuting the suspects in any of the murders listed. More than half of the journalist who died (53%) was not killed in fire fight or bombing attack but individually murdered.

Philippines

In 2009, the massacre of 30 journalists and 2 media support workers in Maguindanao province doubled the country’s impunity rating from the previous years. In total 55 unsolved murders over the last decade has been reported and a Supreme Court spokesman recently dismissed death threats against reporters as “ridiculous”.

Sri Lanka

Ten journalists have been murdered over the last decade for covering the civil war, human rights, politics, military affairs and corruption. None of the cases has been solved or brought to justice. The newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, who predicted his own murder in a piece he wrote shortly before his death because of the huge amount of deadly violence. Many journalists have also moved to exile.

Colombia

Colombia ranks as number 5 with 13 unsolved murders since 2000.

Afghanistan

Between the violence and corruption, authorities have managed to do little for solving these cases. Although 90% of the journalists and media workers has been murdered or threatened, there are also many international reporters among the murdered.

Nepal

Nepal’s historic political shift from monarchy to a coalition-ruled democratic republic brought no solution to the attacks against media workers. 6 journalist murders have taken place, all unsolved. In January, Uma Sing was attacked and murdered by 15 men armed with knives at his home. Colleagues said that police ignored Singh’s journalism as a motive for fear of political repercussions.

Russia

A total of 18 journalists have been murdered since 2000. One of the names is Natalya Estemirova who was abducted from her home and shot dead in North Caucasus region. The government has done little to solve these murders.

Mexico

The numbers of violence against journalists covering crime, drug trafficking and government corruption is astonishing. One of the victims, Eliseo Barrón Hernàndez, who was beaten and abducted in front of his wife and children on May 2009. His body was later found tortured and shot 11 times in an irrigation ditch.

Pakistan

Authorities managed to win conviction in only one case in the past decade, the murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. The rest of 12 other journalists have gone unsolved. In 2009, television correspondent Musa Khankhel was abducted and executed while covering a peace march in Swat area. On January 2011, the young reporter Wali Khan Babar was shot in his car by a gunman on a motorcycle.

Bangladesh

While there has been no murder since 2005, there have also been no convictions won in any of the 7 unsolved murders before that. The most recent case was the murder of Gautam Das, who was found strangled in his office on November 2005. Police arrested several suspects but none has been convicted.

India

CPJ research has shown that India with a robust democracy has failed address impunity in 7 journalist murders over the past decade. Violence and intimidation of reporters who covers crime, corruption and human rights issues are targeted.

Other forms of violence, physical assaults and threats have risen up by a third (from 929 cases in 2008 to 1,456 in 2009). Journalists are most at risk in the Americas (501 cases), being exposed to drug-trafficking. Asia comes next with 364 cases of this kind with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The number of censored media is escalating alarmingly with nearly 570 cases of newspapers, radio or TV stations banned from putting out news or forced to close. This happened to a satirical magazine in Malaysia, a score of reformist newspapers in Iran, Radio France Internationale in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the BBC World Service in Rwanda.

Choosing exile to stay Alive

Reporters without Borders have released annual roundup numbers that includes figures for journalists who have been forced to leave their countries because of threats to their lives or liberty. A total of 157 journalists went into exile in the past year, often in very harsh conditions. Among the countries where the exodus of journalists and bloggers was particularly dramatic was Iran, with more than 50 fleeing, and Sri Lanka, with 29. In Africa, some 50 journalists fled the chaos in Somalia while scores of Eritreans sought refuge abroad for fear of being targeted for reprisals by the continent’s worst dictatorship. Journalists also fled Guinea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia and Ethiopia. 167 journalists were in prison around the world at the end of 2009 and the sentences given to journalists in Cuba, China, Sri Lanka and Iran are so harsh that it is similar to those who are imprisoned for terrorism or violent crime. One journalist is assaulted or arrested every day in the Middle East and more than 60 journalists were physically attacked or arrested in Iraq in 2009. In Gaza, more than 50 journalists were detained by Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank. In Asia, the arrests are low for now, but foreign or local journalists are still arrested when they cross “the red lines” they are suppose to observe. For 11 years, China was the world’s leading jailer of journalists but Iran has managed to overcome these numbers after jailing dozens of journalists. Cuba is next on the list followed by Eritrea.

A total of almost 160 journalists in all continents were forced to go into exile to escape prison or death. The Iranian press photographers crossed the Turkish border to escape arrest and the Somali radio journalists fled to neighbouring countries to avoid certain death had all reported essential news and information that some people would go to any lengths to suppress.

Election violence and arrest

Two important events happened in 2009. One was the huge massacre of journalists in one day (30 killed) by the private militia of a governor in the southern Philippines and the other was the mass arrest of journalists and bloggers during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election. This shows how dangerous it has become to cover war and elections as journalists themselves are being targeted facing kidnapping, torture and murder.

Taoufik Ben Brik, a Tunisian journalist was imprisoned in the days following President Ben Ali’s re-election, while is colleague, Slim Boukhdhir, was brutally assaulted. Several journalists were attacked and others received death threats in Gabon following President Ali Bongo’s re-election. Around six media were also temporarily shut down for reporting on the post-election violence and criticising members of the new government.

Censor

Although China continued to be the leading Internet censor in 2009, Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan have also resorted to frequent blocking of websites and blogs and surveillance of online expression as for example Turkmen Internet remains under total state control. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer is still in jail, while the famous Burmese comedian Zarganar still has 34 years of his prison sentence to serve of his sentence. Several European countries are working on new ways to control the Internet to battle illegal downloads and Australia has said it will set up a compulsory filtering system that poses a threat to freedom of expression. Turkey’s courts have increased the number of websites, including YouTube, which are blocked for criticising the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

We should remember that behind every figure there is a face, and a family, friends, and colleagues, all of whom suffer from a journalist’s persecution or death. The courage shown by the journalists has earned them imprisonment, torture, assault, threats and many has paid with their lives.

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