Journalists targeted for murder in bloody start to new year

Brussels, 9 January – The International News Safety Institute on Friday appealed to all parties involved in war and other conflicts to respect the independence and safety of journalists as the new year got off to one of its bloodiest beginnings ever for the world’s news media.

Warfare and other unrest claimed the lives of five journalists in the first eight days of 2009, the worst start to a new year since INSI began keeping records in 2003. More than 100 news media staff died in 2008.

There was significant evidence of journalists being targeted to silence their work.

“This is a dismaying start to the new year,” said INSI Director Rodney Pinder. “The deliberate targeting of journalists in war or peacetime is a crime and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“Free societies cannot exist without press freedom and there is no press freedom where journalists are being killed because of their work.”

The first victim, a Somali radio reporter, fell on 1 January. Radio Shabelle correspondent Hassan Mayow Hassan was shot by a member of a pro-government militia in Afgooye, 30 km south of Mogadishu.

Hassan was with other journalists covering clashes between Islamist militants and armed groups that support the federal transitional government. When Hassan identified himself as a journalist a militant shot him twice in the head.

The most recent victim, on 8 January, was Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor in chief of the Sunday Leader and one of South Asia’s most prominent press freedom campaigners.

Gunmen ambushed his car as he drove to work, used crowbars to smash the windows and opened fire at close range.

Lasantha was the 16th member of the news media slain in Sri Lanka over the past three years as war rages between the government an the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A delegation to Sri Lanka from the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission, which included INSI, reported that press freedom had deteriorated sharply over the previous year, marked by murders, attacks, abductions, intimidation and harassment of journalists.

It noted the authorities had taken little or no action over the killings even where there was evidence of identity of the perpetrators.

On 4 January, a suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least seven people, including two journalists, Mohammad Imran and Tahir Awan of local dailies Eitedal and Apna Akhbar. The bomber struck when police, observed by journalists, were examining evidence of an earlier small explosion.

Two days later, a Palestinian cameraman, Basel Faraj, died of his wounds after being hit in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Faraj, who worked for the Algerian TV network ENTV and the Palestine Broadcast Production Company, was filming with two reporters and another cameraman who were wounded.

The Palestine Journalists Syndicate (PJS) says Israeli forces have targeted vehicles and journalists clearly identified as such with “Press” or “TV” markings.

Two leading journalist support groups, The International Federation of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists, both INSI members, have accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian news media in the Gaza Strip while maintaining a ban on foreign journalists from entering the territory.

The CPJ, quoting regional news agencies, said Israeli forces on Monday fired two missiles into the offices of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Risala news weekly and a few minutes later bombed al-Rantisi printers, a commercial firm which publishes Al-Risala.

The IFJ said each day brought “more cynical violations of press freedom and the rights of journalists trying desperately to cover events unfolding in Gaza”.

INSI urges all warring parties to respect in letter and spirit UN Security Council Resolution 1738 of 2006 which demands an end to attacks on journalists in armed conflict.

“All parties in situations of armed conflict were urged to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel as civilians,” the resolution says.

INSI’s Killing The Messenger tracker of news media casualties around the world counts at least 1,375 dead in the 12 years since 1996.

Any questions on this news release should be addressed to Rodney Pinder email rodney.pinder@newssafety.org or mobile +44 7734 709267

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