Berlin, May 12, 2020 — Authorities in Northern Ireland must quickly and thoroughly investigate threats made against journalists covering paramilitary activity and ensure their safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 8, Belfast police told several journalists working for the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers that the South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association–a loyalist, or pro-British, paramilitary group–was planning “imminent” attacks against them, according to reports by the BBC and the Irish Times. Those reports did not specify exactly how many journalists were warned or disclose their identities.
At least one of the journalists was warned of a plan to booby-trap their car, according to the BBC.
According to the Irish Times, the threats were tied to the journalists’ coverage of the paramilitary group and of killings linked to its members. Both newspapers are owned by the Independent News & Media publishing house, according to that report.
“Authorities in Northern Ireland should leave no stone unturned in investigating the threats made against journalists covering the South East Antrim Ulster Defence Association, and should ensure that reporters can work without fear,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Reporters for the Sunday Life and Sunday World newspapers must not be intimidated out of covering the region’s paramilitary groups.”
The news about the planned attacks came just weeks after the first anniversary of the killing of journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot while covering clashes between rioters and police in Londonderry, as CPJ documented at the time.
In an email to CPJ, the press office of the Police Service in Northern Ireland declined to comment on the specifics of the threats, but said, “We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk.”