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Getting away with murder: It's impunity that rules

Democracies from Colombia to India and Russia to the Philippines are among the worst countries in the world at prosecuting journalists' killers, according to the Impunity Index, a list of countries where governments have consistently failed to solve journalists’ murders. The list has been compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The countries with the worst records for impunity—Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia—have been mired in conflict. But the majority of the 13 countries on CPJ’s Impunity Index are established, peacetime democracies such as Mexico, pointing to alarming failures by those elected governments to protect journalists.

“Every time a journalist is murdered and the killer is allowed to walk free it sends a terrible signal to the press and to others who would harm journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The governments on this list simply must do more to demonstrate a real commitment to a free press. Lip service won’t help save journalists’ lives. We are calling for action: thorough investigations and vigorous prosecutions in all journalist homicides.”

In releasing the Impunity Index in advance of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, CPJ sought to raise awareness about a disturbing pattern of impunity in these 13 countries across the globe. Among CPJ’s findings:

  • Most countries on the Impunity Index are democratic, are not at war, and have functioning law enforcement institutions, yet journalists are regularly targeted for murder and no one is held accountable.
  • Journalists in South Asia are particularly vulnerable. Countries from that region make up almost half of the index. They include Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.
  • Even in countries in conflict, such as Iraq, the vast majority of journalist deaths are homicides, not a product of crossfire.
  • Local reporters covering their home countries are most vulnerable. Most of the murders ranked in the Impunity Index were local journalists in their home countries.

CPJ’s Impunity Index, compiled for the first time this year, calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the population in each country. CPJ examined every nation in the world for the years 1998 through 2007. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this Index. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.

In November, CPJ launched a Global Campaign Against Impunity. CNN Chief International Correspondent and CPJ Board Member Christiane Amanpour wrote about impunity in her preface to CPJ’s annual report, 'Attacks on the Press', and spoke about it in a video earlier this year.

Here are the 13 countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers.

  1. IRAQ
    Iraq became the world’s most dangerous country for the press after the 2003 U.S. invasion led to armed conflict and sectarian strife. Journalists have generally not died in combat, however. Most are targeted for professional reasons and murdered. Most of the victims, such as Al-Arabiya correspondent Atwar Bahjat, are Iraqis. Seventy-nine cases are unsolved.
    Impunity Index Rating: 2.821 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    The 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002, took a great human toll across Sierra Leonean society. Nine journalist murders remain unsolved. Many of these cases stem from a particularly brutal period in January 1999, when rebels took the capital, Freetown. More recently, however, newspaper editor Harry Yansaneh was beaten to death in 2005, allegedly by a member of parliament and her relatives.
    Impunity Index Rating: 1.636 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Run largely by competing warlords since 1991, Somalia remains fragmented since Ethiopian troops helped install a central government in late 2006. No convictions have been obtained in five journalist murders. They include the slayings of radio journalists Mahad Ahmed Elmi and Ali Sharmarke, who were killed within hours of each other on August 11, 2007.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.610 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    The conflict among right-wing paramilitaries, leftist guerillas, and government forces has led to dozens of journalist deaths. In the vast majority of cases, journalists were targeted for their coverage and murdered. At least 20 cases are unsolved, including the 2003 slaying of the nationally known investigative reporter Guillermo Bravo Vega.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.439 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Fighting between government and separatist forces has long bled the nation. But journalists are more likely to be assassinated than to die in crossfire, with many of the victims ethnic Tamils. The victims include senior Tamil journalist Mylvaganam Nimalrajan, shot in his home in 2000. Nimalrajan’s murder is among eight unsolved cases here.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.408 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    While the country has a free and vibrant press, journalists covering corruption, crime, and politics have repeatedly been targeted with violence. Broadcast commentators and reporters in provincial regions are especially vulnerable. Politicians and police have been implicated in a number of slayings, but corruption in the local court system has stymied efforts to prosecute. No convictions have been obtained in 24 cases.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.289 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Despite the prolonged armed conflict in Afghanistan, journalists are more likely to be targeted for murder than to be killed in a combat situation. Seven cases are unsolved, including the 2007 slaying of local reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi. Running counter to the international trend, most victims have been foreign rather than local reporters.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.279 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
  8. NEPAL
    Political instability and conflict between the government and Maoist insurgents have challenged Nepal, where five journalist murders remain unsolved. Four of the victims were abducted and executed while in captivity. All were local journalists. They include Birendra Shah, a radio and print journalist who was kidnapped and slain in 2007.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.185 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Business, official corruption, and human rights abuses are among Russia’s most dangerous beats. Fourteen journalists have been murdered with impunity since 1998. They include the well-known investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, shot in her apartment building in 2006, and the American editor Paul Klebnikov, gunned down on a Moscow street in 2004.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.098 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
  10. MEXICO
    Drug trafficking, organized crime, and official corruption are Mexico’s deadliest beats. No convictions have been obtained in seven journalist murders. Most of the victims were local reporters, such as Francisco Ortiz Franco, a top editor for the muckraking Tijuana weekly Zeta who was shot in the middle of the day on a downtown street in 2004.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.068 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Political instability and entrenched corruption are the toughest stories to cover in Bangladesh. Eight journalist murders are unsolved. The victims were all local reporters, and include the veteran correspondent Manik Saha, killed when leftists threw a bomb into his rickshaw in 2004.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.056 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
    Political unrest, sectarian strife, and tribal warfare confront Pakistan. Eight Pakistani journalists have been murdered with impunity since 1998. The victims include reporter Hayatullah Khan, who was kidnapped in the tribal region of North Waziristan in 2005 and found dead several months later.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.051 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
  13. INDIA
    The world’s largest democracy also has one of the world’s freest presses, but in India, as elsewhere, politics and organized crime are dangerous stories to cover. Five murder cases are unsolved. All of the victims were local reporters. Among them is newspaper reporter Prahlad Goala, who was run down by a truck and then stabbed in 2006 after writing about timber smuggling.
    Impunity Index Rating: 0.005 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Date posted: May 3, 2008 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 683