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Prompt, impartial probes by states needed into attacks on media workers: UN experts

Reporting the news can be a dangerous mission, and the numbers back this up.
Reporting the news can be a dangerous mission, and the numbers back this up.PHOTO: AFP

UN experts on Tuesday (Nov 2) called on countries to conduct thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into violence against media workers as the world marked International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

Reporting the news can be a dangerous mission, and the numbers back this up.

At least one journalist was killed each week in 2020 on average just for doing his job, according to the Unesco observatory of killed journalists, which, for almost three decades now, has documented the deaths of nearly 1,500 journalists.

In Asia alone, 18 journalists have been killed so far this year, most of them in South Asia.

And in nine out of 10 cases globally, the killers walk free, the observatory said.

"When (states) fail to investigate and prosecute these crimes, they are effectively censoring speech, muzzling those who dare to report and chilling others into silence," three UN special rapporteurs said in a statement released on Tuesday evening.

"That the needle has not shifted over the past decade is a clear indication that national and international measures for protecting the safety of journalists are failing. Much more needs to be done."

The independent experts in the UN Human Rights system were Ms Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms Reem Alsalem, special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and Mr Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

They called for stronger measures to protect the safety of journalists, including for the UN to set up a standing investigatory mechanism to assist in investigations, identify avenues for justice, and support measures to end impunity and prevent violence against media workers.

They also urged countries to consider individualised sanctions against those responsible for ordering, carrying out or threatening acts of violence against journalists, or preventing or hampering effective investigations.

The number of media workers killed outside conflict zones has risen in recent years, and simply looking into corruption cases, human rights violations or environmental issues can put journalists' lives at risk, exposing them to threats ranging from kidnapping, torture and arbitrary detention to disinformation campaigns and harassment.

UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres echoed the special rapporteurs' concerns on Tuesday, warning that attacks against journalists create a climate of fear that hinders their work of raising awareness of important issues and sharing information, opinions and ideas with the rest of the world.

"Crimes against journalists have an enormous impact on society as a whole because they prevent people from making informed decisions," Mr Guterres said.

"The Covid-19 pandemic, and the shadow pandemic of misinformation, has demonstrated that access to facts and science is literally a matter of life and death. When access to information is threatened, it sends a disturbing message that undermines democracy and the rule of law."

Mr Guterres commemorated the legacy of journalists killed in the line of duty, and called for justice for the crimes committed against them.

He urged the international community to stand in solidarity with media workers around the world to demonstrate the political will needed to investigate and prosecute these crimes with the full force of the law.

This year, the movement headed by the UN General Assembly is focused on prosecutorial services, examining the investigation and prosecution of threats of violence against journalists.

Women journalists are at particular risk of online violence, according to Mr Guterres.

Nearly three in four women journalists surveyed in a recent Unesco discussion paper said they had been threatened, intimidated or insulted online in connection with their work.

"When we lose a journalist, we are deprived of their stories and investigations, but also of their collaboration, mentorship, wisdom, and example as a role model. We feel those losses every single day of what would have typically been decades of work," the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) said in a statement on Tuesday.

"We want the powerful to know that killing a journalist won't kill the story," it added.

The investigative reporting organisation works to raise the costs of crimes against journalists and eliminate any benefit to such crimes by finishing the journalist's work, reporting further on the people in those stories, and scrutinising any investigation of the crimes.

It has been involved in a number of high-profile investigations, including continuing late Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak's reporting into tax fraud by several rich and well-connected businessmen in Slovakia and pushing for justice over his murder in 2018.

Mr Kuciak, a reporter for the Bratislava news website Aktuality, and his fiancee, Ms Martina Kusnirova, were found dead with gunshot wounds in their home in February 2018. Police said they believed Mr Kuciak's reporting was a motive in his murder.

Thousands march for slain Slovak journalist who probed corruption
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