Photojournalist shot in Northern Ireland sectarian violence

New York, June 23, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Ulster authorities to investigate the shooting of photographer Niall Carson and ensure the safety of journalists covering sectarian violence in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.

Carson, a photojournalist with the Press Association (PA), a national U.K. press agency, was shot in the leg during communal clashes between Catholics and Protestants on Tuesday night in the neighborhood of Short Strand, a small Catholic community in the predominantly Protestant eastern part of Belfast. After the incident, Carson was taken to the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital, where he underwent minor surgery, according to international news reports. Carson told Irish news website The Journal  that he’s been discharged and hopes to make a full recovery.

“The British authorities must launch an immediate investigation into the shooting and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said CPJ Senior Advisor Jean-Paul Marthoz. “We also call on all sides to take the necessary precaution to allow journalists to report safely.”

It is unclear whether Carson was targeted as a journalist. According to the U.K. Guardian, Assistant Chief Constable Alistair Finlay said Carson might have been shot because “there were police round about where those journalists were standing.” An unnamed photographer who witnessed Carson’s shooting told the BBC that he “saw someone peering over the wall and he shot about five or six rounds.”

The National Union of Journalists has strongly condemned the shooting. “It is an attack on the media in Northern Ireland, said the union’s Irish secretary, Seamus Dooley. It is vital that journalists be allowed to carry out their duties without fear of attack.”

The police have blamed the disturbances on the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist (Protestant) paramilitary group, which is alleged to have started the fighting on Monday night by attacking houses of Catholic residents in Short Strand. Two people were shot in disturbances that the police described as “the worst in years.” On Tuesday night, a new confrontation took place and a barrage of petrol bombs and fireworks were thrown at security force lines with officers firing dozens of plastic bullets. It is not clear, however, which side–Republican (Catholic) or loyalist–is responsible for the shooting of the journalist.

The riots happened a few days in advance of the traditional Orange marches that commemorate the victory of Protestant William of Orange over Catholic King James II in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. They usually coincide with a rise of tensions between the two communities. UVF members are said to be angered at restrictions placed on these contentious parades.