Bangladesh, the Philippines and India appear on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 10th annual list of nations where, the press freedom watchdog says, killers of reporters and writers are likely to go free from prosecution.
CPJ released its Global Impunity Index on Wednesday to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which falls on Nov. 2.
“The unchecked, unsolved murders of journalists is one of the greatest threats to press freedom,” New York-based CPJ said.
The Philippines ranks fifth on the list, while Bangladesh is 10th and India is 12th. The list includes 12 nations with at least five unsolved killings of journalists. The rankings are based on the number of such deaths over a 10-year period as a percentage of population.
Not included in the report, which covered Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2017, were recent acts of violence in all three countries.
On Oct. 24, Philippine radio broadcaster Christopher Iban Lozada, 29, was killed when gunmen in a van stopped his car in the city of Bislig on Mindanao island. Lozada had often lashed out against government corruption on his program.
In Bangladesh on Oct. 28, several journalists who were traveling with opposition leader Khaleda Zia to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar were injured when her motorcade was attacked. Since Oct. 10, Utpal Das, a senior correspondent for the online portal Purbo Pashchim has been missing. His father told reporters on Oct. 26 that Das could have been abducted.
In India, independent journalist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on Sept. 5. Lankesh had been identified as an outspoken critic of Hindutva politics, an ideology seeking to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu values, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
42 deaths in the Philippines
The CPJ report lists 42 such deaths in the Philippines, which ranked fourth in 2016, and notes that those targeted were local journalists covering politics, corruption, business and crime outside the capital.
The report did credit President Rodrigo Duterte for forming the Presidential Task Force on Media Security in October 2016 that includes a team of investigators and prosecutors designated to investigate new cases of journalist killings. While the commission announced investigations into several murders, those investigations have not led to convictions.
“Meanwhile, two people including a former policeman claimed Duterte ordered the killing of radio broadcaster Jun Pala in 2003, when Duterte was mayor of Davao City. Duterte has denied any connection to the crime,” the report states.
The report also highlights the March 2017 shooting death of reporter Joaquin Briones and the lack of justice for 32 journalists and media workers killed in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that left 58 people dead.
“Three (out of dozens) of suspects were acquitted in July this year on grounds of insufficient evidence. The regional appeals court also upheld petitions for bail by Datu Sajid, a principal suspect,” CPJ stated.
7 deaths in Bangladesh
The report states that seven secular bloggers and journalists reporting on drug trafficking were killed in Bangladesh while members of extremist and criminal groups were “getting away with murder.”
Bangladesh, which ranked 11th in 2016, is credited for police arresting a member of militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team in November 2016, who confessed to being involved in the killings of secular writer Niloy Neel (also known as Niladri Chottopaddhya) and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan. It also noted that several suspects had been detained since 2015 but in only one case, the 2013 killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, had anyone been convicted.
Mojurul Ahsan Bulbul, president of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, said the report was spot on.
“This is true that trials for killing journalists are rare in Bangladesh. To improve in the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, Bangladesh must mete out justice for the murder of the journalists,” he told BenarNews.
Bulbul said the photo of a press card belonging to Abdul Hakim Shimul, symbolized the global insecurity of the journalists. Shimul, a local journalist in Sirajganj district who worked for the Bengali language newspaper Daily Shamakal, was killed Feb. 3 in a gunfight between two factions of the ruling Awami League.
“The blood-stained identity card of Shimul is seen at every international seminar and symposium. This is not a good example. This is a matter of Bangladesh’s image and image of Bangladesh’s press freedom,” Bulbul said.
“I would urge the government to try the killers of the journalists,” he said.
Reacting to the report, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government was not responsible for hindering trials of journalist killers. He instead blamed previous governments for not being interested.
“If it is said that we are obstructing the justice, it will be unfair. We have been working to ensure trial of the killings of all journalists. The only exception is the Sagor-Runi murder case,” he said.
Journalists Sagor Sarowar and his wife, Meherun Runi, were stabbed to death in their Dhaka home in February 2012. On the fifth anniversary of their killings, former colleagues questioned why police had not revealed a motive or released an investigation report, even though six suspects had been in custody for at least four years without being charged.
13 killed in India
India, which ranked 13th in the 2016 report, has seen 13 journalists killed in the last decade. CPJ blamed the killings on criminal and political groups and government officials.
CPJ credited India’s Maharashtra state for passing legislation in April establishing stiffer penalties for incidents of violence against journalists and news outlets. It requires that high-ranking police officers investigate incidents of violence against journalists and designates such attacks a non-bailable offenses.
But CPA also took a shot at India.
“All murders of journalists in India documented by CPJ have been carried out with complete impunity,” the report states.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.