Tuesday, April 20, 2010

CPJ’s 2010 Impunity Index : Getting away with murder

Deadly, unpunished violence against the press has soared in the Philippines and Somalia, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in its newly updated Impunity Index, a list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. Impunity in journalist murders also rose significantly in Russia and Mexico, two countries with long records of entrenched, anti-press violence.

But Brazil and Colombia, historically two of the world’s deadliest nations for the press, each made marked improvement in curbing deadly violence against journalists and bringing killers to justice, CPJ found. Recent convictions in Brazil, in fact, moved the country off the index entirely.

In many nations on the list, the plague of impunity is having a broader effect on society as a whole, effectively choking off the flow of news and information. In Sri Lanka, fourth on the index with 10 unsolved murders, many of the country’s most senior journalists have fled into exile in fear that they, too, would be targeted. In countries such as Mexico, CPJ research shows that self-censorship has been so widespread that major events and issues have gone uncovered.

“Our goal in compiling this index is to spur leaders in these nations to action,” said CPJ’s Simon. “Many of these cases are solvable—the perpetrators have been identified but authorities lack the political will to prosecute.”

CPJ is releasing the 2010 Impunity Index to coincide with an international summit on impunity being held today and Wednesday in New York. The summit will convene press defenders and journalists from around the world to coordinate and improve strategies to reverse deadly violence against the press.

The Index

Here are the 12 countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers. The index covers the years 2000 through 2009.


All 88 journalist murders over the last 10 years are unsolved, putting Iraq at the top of the index for the third year in a row. All but seven cases involve local journalists, the vast majority of whom were targeted by insurgents. The victims include Al-Arabiya television correspondent Atwar Bahjat and crew members Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi and Adnan Khairallah, who were shot on assignment outside the Golden Mosque in Samarra in 2006. There is a positive trend: For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion, CPJ documented no work-related murders in Iraq in 2009. (Four journalists were killed in crossfire in 2009.) Nevertheless, with an impunity ranking nearly three times as high as any other country, Iraq has posed unparalleled dangers to the press.

Impunity Index Rating: 2.794 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.983


Somalia moved up to second on the index as journalists continued to be targeted, mainly by hard-line Al-Shabaab insurgents but some by government troops. Amid the ongoing conflict, a weak federal government failed to investigate or prosecute suspects in any of the nine murders CPJ has recorded over the last decade. Especially vulnerable are journalists from independent radio stations; seven of the victims worked for such stations. Attacks against staff of the independent broadcaster Radio Shabelle illustrate the awful conditions: After News Director Hassan Mayow Hassan was murdered by insurgents in January 2009, his successor, Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, was gunned down in a public market five months later.

Impunity Index Rating: 1.000 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 3rd with a rating of 0.690


The November 2009 massacre of 30 journalists and two media support workers in Maguindanao province more than doubled the country’s impunity rating from the previous year. Authorities have indicted nearly 200 people in the massacre, including local political leaders said to have masterminded the attack. In total, CPJ has recorded 55 unsolved murders over the last decade. Aside from the Maguindanao ambush, the country’s abysmal impunity record showed some signs of a turnaround with convictions in the 2006 killing of Armando Pace and the 2005 murder Edgar Amoro. But there is reason to believe that authorities still do not grasp the seriousness of their problem: A Supreme Court spokesman recently dismissed death threats against a reporter as “ridiculous.”

Impunity Index Rating: 0.609 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 6th with a rating of 0.273


Ten journalists have been murdered over the last decade for their coverage of civil war, human rights, politics, military affairs, and corruption. Not a single conviction has been obtained in any of the cases. Local and global outrage soared last year with the murder of the prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga. Deadly violence has become so entrenched that Wickramatunga predicted his own murder in a piece he wrote shortly before his death. The article, published three days after his murder, said: “Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened, and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.” The violence and impunity have driven high numbers of Sri Lankan journalists into exile, CPJ research shows.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.496 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 4th with a rating of 0.452


With 15 unsolved murders since 2000, Colombia has earned its very poor standing on the index. But CPJ has charted improvements in recent years. One journalist, radio correspondent José Everardo Aguilar, has been murdered for work-related reasons in the past three years. And in 2009, prosecutors won convictions against three former public officials charged with plotting the 2003 murder of radio commentator José Emeterio Rivas.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.292 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 5th with a rating of 0.347


Amid ongoing violence and corruption, authorities have offered little sign of solving any of the seven murder cases over the last decade. In contrast to global data showing that more than 90 percent of media victims are local journalists, the majority of those murdered in Afghanistan have been international reporters. They include German freelancers Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe, who were shot near Baghlan in 2006 while doing research for a documentary.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.240 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 7th with a rating of 0.248


Nepal’s historic political shift from monarchy to a coalition-ruled democratic republic under the leadership of former Maoist rebels brought no redress in media attacks, despite a commitment by the prime minister to reverse impunity in human rights abuses. Maoist suspects in at least two murders remain at large. In total, six journalist murders have taken place in the last decade, all unpunished. These include the brutal slaying of Uma Singh in January 2009. Singh, a young print and radio reporter who documented Maoist land seizures, was fatally attacked by 15 knife-wielding men in her home. Colleagues say police have ignored Singh’s journalism as a motive for fear of political repercussions.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.210 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 8th with a rating of 0.178


Despite recent international pressure and domestic pledges to address impunity, little progress was reported in the last year in winning convictions in journalist murders. Russia moved up one spot in this year’s index, reflecting three murders committed in 2009. In all, 18 press killings have gone unsolved since 2000. Two of the journalists killed in 2009 worked for a single newspaper, the independent Novaya Gazeta. The victims included the internationally respected reporter and human rights defender Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted from her home and shot dead in the volatile North Caucasus region.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.127 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 9th with a rating of 0.106


Astonishing levels of violence against journalists covering crime, drug trafficking, and government corruption continued in 2009, pushing Mexico up two spots on the index. Impunity in nine murders over the last decade can be largely attributed to the government’s inability to rein in organized crime’s far and brutal reach. Victims include reporter and photographer Eliseo Barrón Hernández, who was beaten and abducted in front of his wife and children in May 2009. Authorities later found Barrón’s body, tortured and shot at least 11 times, in an irrigation ditch.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.085 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 11th with a rating of 0.057


Pakistani authorities have won convictions in only one case in the past decade, the murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. Twelve other journalist murders have gone unsolved during that time. Two of the murders were reported in 2009, a year in which journalists faced intense pressure from militants and enormous challenges in covering a series of military offensives. The 2009 victims included television correspondent Musa Khankhel, who was abducted and executed while covering a peace march in a militant-controlled area in Swat.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.072 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 10th with a rating of 0.062


Bangladesh has been in a holding pattern. While no journalist murders have been reported since 2005, no convictions have been won in any of the seven unsolved killings perpetrated in the first half of the decade, when journalists faced heavy reprisals for their coverage of corruption, organized crime, and extremist groups. The most recent murder claimed the life of newspaper reporter Gautam Das, who was found strangled in his office in November 2005. Police arrested several suspects in the case, but to date none have been convicted.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.044 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 12th with a rating of 0.044


The country’s reputation for having vibrant news media and robust democracy masks its failure to address impunity in seven journalist murders over the past decade. Violence and intimidation of provincial reporters—particularly those covering crime, corruption, and human rights issues—are common while government investigations are ineffectual, CPJ research shows. The victims include Vikas Ranjan, a correspondent for a Hindi-language daily, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in northern Bihar state. Ranjan had been threatened repeatedly over his coverage of local crime and corruption.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.006 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants.
Last year: Ranked 14th with a rating of 0.006

© Committee to Protect Journalists

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sri Lanka: Convert Sara released on bail

By T. Farook Thajudeen - The Buddhist convert to Islam, Sara, alias Malani Perera who had written two books about her conversion from Buddhism to Islam and was in detention on the orders of the Defence Secretary from March 19 was released today on bail of Rs 5000 cash with two sureties for Rs 50,000 each by the Colombo Additional Magistrate Mrs. Praharsha S. Ranasinghe.

She was arrested allegedly for publishing a book deemed to defamatory and offensive to Buddhists. The Mirihana Special Investigation Unit submitting a report in court submitted that the suspect was arrested on a complaint made by a courier service and on checking the suspect the police found that her identity card contained her name as Malani Perera and she was dressed like a Muslim. Consequently they arrested her conducted investigation after detaining her till April 19 at Mirihana Police Station on the orders of Defense Secretary.

The Officer said their investigations had revealed that she had written two books on Islam and investigated to identify whether she had any involvements with any terrorist movements. The investigations conducted so far had not revealed any such involvements and would not object to granting bail to her.

Counsel hemantha Situge appearing on behalf on the suspect submitted that the since the Police investigation do not reveal any illegal or unlawful acts of the suspect to release her or to grant her bail.

Counsel Hussain Azhar appeared on behalf Dr.M. G. M.S. Zurfick , the spokesman for a Coordinating Secretary to President Mahinda Rajapakse on Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs and on behalf of Adambarage Suwanda De Silva the president of Muslim converts Organisation submitted that the alleged offence committed are falling under Section 219 of the Penal Code which are said to be deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any religious sect by insulting its religious belief is a bail able offence and to consider granting bail to the suspect.

The magistrate on considering the submissions granted bail to the suspect and ordered the sureties to produce the Grama Nilasdari certificate and the Police report in court. The suspects passport was retained in court. The case was postponed for May 19.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sri Lanka stages poll re-run ahead of final results

Fresh polling was held in two districts of Sri Lanka on Tuesday in areas where violence affected this month's parliamentary elections and held up final results, officials said.

About 50,000 people were eligible to vote where balloting was disrupted during the April 8 nationwide poll.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance has already secured a landslide victory in the election, winning 117 out of the 180 seats declared so far.

The violence delayed results in 45 seats out of the 225 in the national parliament.

"We have stepped up security and the polling is under way peacefully," police Deputy Inspector General Gamini Navaratne said.

A spokesman for the elections commission said they expected to release the final results around midnight Tuesday. The new parliament is due to hold its first session on Thursday.


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BBC programmes on SLBC again

BBC World Service is reinstating its FM programming on the Sri Lankan national broadcaster SLBC from today.

This is the first time BBC English, Sinhala and Tamil programmes being rebroadcast on the SLBC FM network for 14 months.

The BBC programmes were suspended in February last year “following deliberate interference in its broadcasts,” BBC said in a statement.

During the suspension, the BBC’s services in all three languages remained available in Sri Lanka via short wave; on bbc.com/news, bbcsinhala.com and bbctamil.com via the Internet; and news bulletins in English via the Sri Lankan commercial broadcaster MBC.

Director of BBC Global News Peter Horrocks said that the BBC wishes to rebuild its partnership with SLBC.

“We have been reassured by SLBC that our contractual agreement will be respected, which guarantees that our programmes in English, Sinhala, and Tamil are broadcast uninterrupted,” he said.

Mr. Horrocks added that the BBC audiences value the editorial intergrity of its programming.

“Our audiences understand that in order to cover news events in the most comprehensive and balanced way, the BBC adheres to specific editorial values that include impartiality, editorial independence and seeking a relevant range of views on any topic,” he said.

© BBC Sinhala

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sri Lanka's jailed general likely to attend parliament

By Ranga Sirilal - The jailed general who helped win Sri Lanka's quarter-century war appears likely to attend parliament's opening this week, officials said, after he won a seat while in military custody facing court-martial.

Retired General Sarath Fonseka this month won a seat in the capital Colombo under the opposition Democratic National Alliance (DNA), less than three months after he lost the presidential race to incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa by a landslide.

Fonseka ran as an opposition figurehead and his appearance at Thursday's parliament opening would provide a rare bright spot for opposition parties reeling from Rajapaksa's dominating victory at the April 8 legislative poll.

Rajapaksa's UPFA has 117 seats out of the 225-member parliament so far and is gunning for a two-thirds majority that would give the president the power to change the constitution.

Sri Lanka's stock market crossed the 4,000 mark for the first time in history on Monday, reacting to what brokers said was local confidence the new government would bring political and economic stability.

Political analysts expect the UPFA to get at least 140 seats once results are in from two re-polls due on Tuesday in electorates where ballots were annulled because of violence.

The president is expected to name a slimmed-down cabinet on Wednesday. Rajapaksa last week told the Divaina newspaper the new cabinet would have no more than 38 ministers, down from the current 109 including deputies.

Fonseka's parliamentary attendance would be a small victory for him, coming 11 months after he declared the army had destroyed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists and seized control of the entire island.

"He should be allowed to attend the parliamentary session. We have sent a letter to the army commander and the secretary-general of parliament, asking them to facilitate," DNA spokesman Anura Kumara Dissanayake said.

Military spokesman Major-General Prasad Samarasinghe confirmed the request had been made.

"The army commander will take action according the law of the country," Samarasinghe said, declining to say whether that means Fonseka can go to parliament.

Two other senior military sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Fonseka would be allowed to attend.

Two weeks after the presidential vote, the government arrested Fonseka and charged him in two courts-martial, one for politicking while he was still in uniform and the other for illegal procurement while he was army commander.

He had been under suspicion of plotting a coup, which the military said had led it to surround him in a Colombo hotel as counting was going after the Jan. 26 election. Fonseka had fallen out with Rajapaksa, saying the president sidelined him.

The general denies all wrongdoing and says he was imprisoned because he posed a political risk to Rajapaksa. The government has laughed that off, pointing out the president beat the general by 18 percentage points.

© Reuters

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Impressions of Sri Lanka: Total suppression of dissent and a family rule

photo courtesy of Sri Lanka Guardian

An interview with Tapan Bose - Everybody thought that after the defeat of the LTTE the situation would improve in Sri Lanka. That was the overall opinion. However, there was a lot of information that the war itself was constituted of human rights violations and war crimes. These have been documented and are a matter of concern to the UN.But nonetheless there was also appreciation in the neighbourhood, in countries such as China, Iran, Cuba etc., that Sri Lanka had shown the way to defeat a very, very strong terrorist organization.

The other side of the story was that now that Rajapakse had defeated such a powerful enemy it was time to rebuild. I think that the first signs of what awaited came when he did not change or withdraw the emergency laws.

The second sign was when he continued to enforce the restrictions on the media. And then we as human rights organizations in South Asia started receiving requests from journalists and media people, both from the state sector and the private sector, to help them relocate to safer places because living in Sri Lanka was becoming dangerous. As the International Federation of Journalists stated, Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places for journalists. And these were not just Tamil people from the north but also journalists based and working in the south.

Until now, 33 Sri Lankan journalists have left the country and more are coming. Actually they are all waiting to return home but the question is, when can they do this?

I just received a letter from a journalist friend of mine, a man of great repute in Sri Lanka, who has now been living in Geneva for almost six months. He wrote to me to wish me a Happy New Year and he said that he wondered when he might go back home. In this you can see the sense of longing and desolation and fear. None of these people left Sri Lanka because they wanted a better life; they were forced to leave Sri Lanka. And this continues.

You know during my recent visit I was, fortunately or unfortunately, there on the day when General Fonseka was arrested, although neither of us knew it at the time. I met at around 3pm and was with him for around two hours before he was taken away most brutally.

I wrote a small piece about it which included my discussion with him and it appeared in the newspapers. During my stay at that point I myself became a victim of police surveillance. It was nothing very obvious but in a sense they were always around and there were also attempts to look at my laptop. But that was also the time when we learned about the Chinese team arriving in Sri Lanka to set up telephone, cell phone and internet surveillance. So nothing is safe in Sri Lanka today in the sense that there is no privacy, you can't afford to write anything that might construed as against the state. You cannot afford to speak or show a picture to anyone that may be seen as offensive to the state.

You see, it is the worst kind of police state. In the Soviet Union there was the practice where only a very few people were allowed to have a typewriter and you had to return the typewriter ribbon in order to get new one so that they could be examined to see what you had written. It is worse than that in Sri Lanka today because technology services have become all powerful. There is no privacy, there is no safety and this is something that the world outside is not realising. The level at which the rights are threatened is terrible. Rights don't exist in Sri Lanka today and the unfortunate part of it is that no institutions function.

There is no use going to the judiciary if your rights are violated. As you can see the AHRC has done so many cases and the judiciary does not respond. The judiciary is either not willing for its own reasons or does not care, I am sorry to say this but this is the case. The police are absolutely powerful and there is a whole history of abuses and these include the JVP problems and the soldiers in the south and the thousands of people that were killed. Much is known about the killings in the north. However, little is known about the systematic killings in the south in the 80s and 90s. There were three presidential commissions, several visits by UN Rapporteurs and other representatives, several promises made by the state which they did not keep that the violators would be punished.

You will remember that Janaka Perera who was one of the architects of the killings was made an ambassador to Australia rather than being punished. There is a whole history of killings, police abuse or protecting the security forces whether it be the police or the army and that has become the worst because today we have the absence of the rule of law.

When you are in a country which does not have rule of law it is no use talking about human rights and teaching people human rights.There are no institutions that can uphold it. To hold an opinian is a great right but if there is no one to protect it, what can we do? Knowing the bill of rights backwards and forwards still does not make any sense.

So this is the reality of Sri Lanka. I have learned this morning that the government party MPs this morning we were talking about arranging a three-day seminar with MPs to discuss the minority protection issue. I received a message today from a close friend that none of the MPs want to leave the country because the government has told them that they must not go without clearance of the government. If this is the state of the MPs you can imagine the state of the ordinary people. The people are so afraid that they don’t want to speak.

I have a lot of friends in Sri Lanka, so I asked one of them to have an informal meeting in one of our homes, so that we can talk. Very few came. Even my close friends. Others sent apologies. One of them told me, Tapan, this the first time we are having a meeting like this since May, 2009. It may be seen as a threat. Even if 10 or 15 people get together for a party, it may be seen as a threat. So this is the level of control by the government.

His son and Gotabaya and Basil, his wife, family, brother-in-law, everyone is in the government. His son has now become an MP. He runs a paramilitary force called the Blue Brigade. What the Blue Brigade does, we all know. They are being trained by the Sri Lankan army. So there is a situation on one side as total suppression of dissent and on the other side, you have a family rule which is worse than what Suharto of In Indonesia did. And this is something that will take a long time to correct.

Some of the countries like India, China, Pakistan and Iran for their short term interests are making deals with the Rajapakses. In the long or even mid-term, this is going to boomerang on all of us because the Sri Lankan interests cannot flourish. Sri Lanka is a bucket without water. Unfortunately Sri Lanka does not have oil and natural gas like Burma. If it did, it would be a different story. So this is something that has to be deal with.The point is the Rajapakses may have billions of dollar abroad already. They will go away but what will happen to the Sri Lankan when they leave. And that is what the international community has to start worrying about. And if there is any commitment to rule of law and human dignity, this the time for the international community to intervene.

Tapan Bose is the Secretary of the organisation "The Other Media" in Delhi. He is a leading human rights activist in India and has been working with the human rights movement and indigenous peoples in India for 15 years.

© Sri Lanka Guardian

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