Justice for Bangladeshi bloggers
Just over a year ago, on February 26, a group of machete-wielding assailants pulled blogger Avijit Roy from his rickshaw and hacked him to death with machetes in Dhaka. Roy was well known for his writing on science, religion, homosexuality, and freedom of expression. His killing was followed by the murders of at least three other bloggers in 2015, all known for promoting secularism in Bangladesh. Investigations into Roy’s killing have led to arrests, but, one year later, no one has been convicted.
Bangladesh is among the countries with the most unsolved murders of journalists, according to CPJ’s 2015 Impunity Index, and the country failed to respond to the last series of inquiries from UNESCO’s director general on the status of investigations into journalist killings, flaunting an important UN accountability mechanism for impunity in media attacks. This month UNESCO sent a new round of requests for updates on the status of efforts to hold accountable those who kill journalists.
Urge Bangladesh’s mission to UNESCO to demonstrate its commitment to justice for Bangladesh’s bloggers by fully participating in the UN agency’s reporting process.
Prosecutions in five cases in early 2016
CPJ has recorded convictions in an average of four cases of murders of journalists a year since 2004, but in the first three months of 2016 alone, courts around the world have prosecuted suspects in four murder cases and one non-fatal asssault— a minute number in comparison to the hundreds of unsolved cases around the world, but a hopeful sign that pressure is starting to have an impact on the ground.
Colombia: After more than 15 years, the wheels of justice have finally turned for Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima. Since February 1, two former paramilitary fighters have been sentenced in connection to an assault against Bedoya in 2000, when she was abducted, raped and beaten. At the time Bedoya reported on right-wing paramilitary activities for the Bogotá daily El Espectador. CPJ, with partner groups in Colombia and around the world, repeatedly pressed Colombia’s leaders throughout this period to find and prosecute Bedoya’s attackers. We will continue to do so until all the perpetrators are brought to account. Read Bedoya’s own account of her struggle to return to reporting and to martial the courage to speak against her assailants in “The Sadness of May the 25,” from the upcoming 2016 edition of CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.
The Philippines: A second suspect has been found guilty of the 2011 murder of radio journalist Gerardo Ortega. A Philippines regional court gave Arturo Regalado a life sentence for making payments to assassins to gun down Ortega, who had often reported on corruption. Regalado was the personal aide of former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes, now in prison awaiting trial along with his brother Mario, the former mayor of Coron town, Palawan for commissioning the crime. The confessed gunman, Marlon Recamata, was convicted in 2013. Despite being in prison, the Reyes brothers have filed their candidacy papers for mayor and vice mayor of Coron town in this May’s elections.
Pakistan: On March 17, a local court sentenced an alleged drug smuggler named Aminullah to life in prison and a Rs 0.5 million (USD 4,774) fine for murdering journalist Ayub Khattak in 2013. Khattak had reported on criminal groups in northwest Pakistan. The killers of at least 30 other journalists in Pakistan have not been prosecuted.
Democratic Republic of Congo: A court convicted a man of murdering community radio journalist Soleil Balanga in April 2015. Moussa Tendenle was sentenced to death on February 22 for slitting Balanga’s throat after the journalist reported on the departure of Tendenle’s father from his position as chief medical officer of a nearby hospital. In a statement at the time of the court’s decision, Kerry Paterson, CPJ’s Africa research associate, commented, “Holding perpetrators accountable for attacks on journalists is the only way to break the cycle of violence.”
Somalia: A military court upheld sentences of six men connected to the murder of Hindia Haji Mohamed, who died on December 3, 2015, after a bomb exploded in her car. Two of the suspects were sentenced to death. CPJ welcomed efforts to rein in Somalia’s troubling impunity rates, the worst in the world according to our 2015 Impunity Index, but also expressed concern that the military trial and the punishment were not in line with international norms.
Brazil: Six convictions in three years
CPJ’s Brazil correspondent Andrew Downie recently reported encouraging progress in investigations of the murders of several journalists in Brazil. Though Brazil remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for the press, efforts to tackle impunity — ranging from the mobilization of federal task forces to the creation of a new urban homicide division — are showing significant results. In the last three years, suspects have been convicted in six cases, more than any other country where CPJ has recorded journalist killings. “While other Latin American nations have made little progress in fighting impunity, the convictions in Brazil are cause for optimism,” writes Downie. CPJ has urged the state to step up its response to threats against journalists and impunity. In 2014, CPJ and partner groups from the region met with President Dilma Rousseff who pledged to end impunity.
Impunity high on agenda at UNESCO news safety meeting
Ending impunity was among the main agenda items at the February 5 News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals conference at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Some 300 people, including media executives, press organizations and UNESCO Member States representatives, met to share good practices on the safety of journalists. Actions proposed included creating national mechanisms to monitor and report on safety and impunity, designating an international coordinating body, and greater press attention to attacks against the press. “Your role is to step up pressure on public authorities to end the scourge of impunity,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told those assembled. CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch moderated a panel on safety for community, regional and local media, highlighting the needs of the most vulnerable journalists.
Visit CPJ’s website to learn more about our global campaign against impunity.