31 October 2017

Africa: Where Journalists Are Killed With Impunity

Photo: Tobin Jones/Amisom
Journalists at work in Somalia, watching a government official inaugurate a new water project. But in conflict zones, they are in danger of getting killed - and the crimes are not solved.

Cape Town — Somalia has the world's worst record for solving the murders of journalists – and holds it for the third year running, says a new report.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says in its annual “global impunity index” that three African countries are among the 12 in which at least five work-related murders of journalists have not been solved in the decade ending August 31 this year.

Apart from Somalia, which has 26 unsolved cases, the other African nations on the list are South Sudan, which ranks in fourth place with five cases, and Nigeria, which comes in at 11th place, also with five cases. The rankings are drawn up by calculating the number of unsolved cases over a 10-year period as a percentage of each country's population.

The killings in Somalia are a result of the country's extended civil war and more recently of the insurgency by Al-Shabaab militants. The CPJ attributes the unsolved murders there to both militants and government officials.

In South Sudan, the five journalists were killed in an ambush in 2015 during the fighting which erupted when the leadership of the country broke into two factions after it achieved independence.

The CPJ attributed the five murders in Nigeria to Boko Haram militants and unknown assailants.

“Impunity,” says the CPJ, “thrives in conflict environments, where powerful actors often use violent intimidation to control media coverage, while weak-to-nonexistent law and order increases the likelihood of attacks.

“The 12 countries on the index account for nearly 80 percent of the unsolved murders that took place worldwide during the 10-year period ending August 31, 2017.”

The non-African countries on the index are Syria, Iraq, the Philippines, Mexico, Pakistan, Brazil, Russia, Bangladesh and India.

Excerpts from the CPJ's report on each of the African countries:

SOMALIA

“At least one journalist, Abdiaziz Ali, was murdered since last year’s index was compiled. Somalia has issued the death penalty against at least three individuals accused of murdering journalists, in contrast with international human rights norms. In February, newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed announced his support for media freedom, but he has failed to advance justice in the killings of any journalists.”

A case illustrating the situation in Somalia:

“Abdiaziz Ali was walking home from his parents’ house in Mogadishu in September 2016 when two men on motorbikes pulled over and shot him several times. Abdiaziz had reported on the civilian toll of Somalia’s conflict between government forces and the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. At least eight journalists murdered in the past decade were affiliated with Abdiaziz’s news outlet, the Shabelle Media Network.”

SOUTH SUDAN

“No culprits have been identified, let alone convicted, in any of the five journalist murders CPJ has documented in South Sudan. In this climate of impunity, journalists have been detained, harassed, and physically attacked, as well as killed in crossfire. Several journalists have been murdered for reasons that CPJ was unable to connect to their work, such as ethnic strife. South Sudan has never responded to UNESCO's requests for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country.”

Details of the 2015 killings:

“In January 2015, five journalists were shot, attacked with machetes, and set on fire in an ambush in Western Bahr al Ghazal state. The journalists were in a politician’s convoy.”

NIGERIA

“Several nonfatal attacks and arrests of journalists took place this year. In June, editor Charles Otu was abducted and beaten by thugs who told him to stop writing critically of the Ebonyi state government.”

An illustrative case:

“Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the October 2011 murder of Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman for the state-run Nigeria Television Authority.”

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