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01.11.2019

Year of impunity shows how hard it is to get justice for journalists who are killed because of their work

By Jane Whyatt

Another Awareness Day reminds the world that reporters and media workers sometimes pay for the truth with their lives. 

Year of impunity shows how hard it is to get justice for journalists who are killed because of their work Lyra McKee, who was killed in April 2019. Photo:NUJ

In the media freedom community, no reminders are required. The struggle for justice continues day by day, and the twelve months since the last United Nations Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists have produced no improvement in the situation. 

In an interview with ECPMF, Ivor Gaber, a member of the UNESCO Committee on the Safety of Journalists describes what steps are being taken. And the ECPMF has joined other media freedom organisations in a strongly-worded statement calling for an end to impunity. 

In Europe, two new 2019 murders remain unsolved.

Twenty-nine-year old investigative reporter Lyra McKee, an editor for Silicon Valley- based online portal Mediagazer was shot in the head during rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland on 18. April 2019. The town, also known as Londonderry, has witnessed a resurgence in sectarian violence between Republicans and Unionists. The two sides in the twenty-year-long civil war known as The Troubles have observed an official ceasefire since the Good Friday Agreement ended the fighting in 1998 But on Good Friday 2019 a breakaway Republican group, The New IRA, claimed responsibility for attacking police with petrol bombs, and for the shooting of Lyra McKee  - which they described as ’an accident’.

No one has been charged with the murder. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has issued a compilation of video footage showing the prime suspects, and the investigative journalists’ collective bellingcat has also posted video footage on YouTube in an attempt to end impunity for the killer or killers. Read ECPMF’s interview with Christy Hunter of the PSNI here

Investigative reporting published posthumously 

Meanwhile a book based on Lyra McKee’s investigative journalistic research into historic crimes committed during the Trouble has been published by an independent Belfast publisher. Entitled "Angels with Blue Faces“. It reveals the cover-ups surrounding the murder of a Unionist politician and the sexual abuse of children from the Kincora Boys home. The publisher, Excalibur Press, is donating profits from the sale of the book to The Merlin Project, which enables young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue careers as writers. 

Just three weeks after the killing of Lyra McKee, Ukrainian reporter Vadym Komarov was attacked and severely beaten about the head with a heavy object in his home town of Cerkasy. He had been working to uncover alleged corruption involving a gymnastics centre. In a Facebook post, he wrote that he would publish details in the local daily newspaper Dzvin. Then came the assault. The attacker used such violence that Komarov fell into a coma and never recovered consciousness. On 20. June he died. His mobile phone and wallet were not touched during the attack and it is believed he was killed in order to prevent him publishing the results of his journalistic investigation. 

"We condemn the murder of Vadym Komarov and call on the Ukrainian authorities to swiftly find his killers and bring them to justice, lest impunity embolden more would-be perpetrators, " said Gulnaza Said of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At the time of writing no-one has been charged in connection with the death.  

Year of impunity shows how hard it is to get justice for journalists who are killed becasue of their work Vadym Komarov. Private photo posted on Facebook

The Council of Europe reports that 22 earlier cases of impunity are still ongoing. They include the murders of 14 Serbian and Albanian journalists. One name that is no longer on that particular list of shame is that of Slavko Curuvija, the Serbian editor and publisher who was assassinated in 1999. In April 2019 a court in Belgrade sentenced two of the four people involved in the killing to thirty years in jail. A third man received a twenty-year sentence. The fourth was tried and convicted in his absence and is still at large.

The murder case of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was closed on 23. April 2019. Twenty-one year old Severin Krasimirov was sentenced to thirty years in jail after pleading guilty to the rape and murder of  the TV presenter. It happened the day after Marinova presented the first edition of a new investigative TV series but the killing is not thought to be linked to her journalistic work.

Jan Kuciak murder trial continues

Charges have been laid on October 21 2019 against four people in connection with the murders of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, shot dead at their home in Slovakia in 2017.

Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial stalled

And in Malta investigations continue into who ordered the 2017 assassination of investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia. The trial of four men accused of carrying out the car bomb assassination is due to start on 8.November 2019.

Following a visit to Malta and high-level report to the Council of Europe by Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt, a public inquiry has been announced into whether the authorities could and should have saved her life, knowing that she had reported many threats and acts of intimidation. The inquiry team has not yet been finalised. But an air of impunity persists: two reporters Carlo Bonini and John Sweeney  and blogger Manuel Delia, who published a book about the case have been threatened with legal action by the Maltese government, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family continues to face a number of  defamation cases which they must contest in court. 

Air of impunity

And every night the flowers, candles and photographs laid in tribute to the murdered journalists at Valletta’s Great Siege Monument are cleared away and dumped by local authority workers – a clear signal that those in power do not accept responsibility for ensuring her safety or punishing those who commissioned the murder. The fact that Daphne’s supporters replace those tributes every single day shows just as clearly that impunity is not acceptable and the struggle for justice will continue.