MEDIA FREEDOM
#NoImpunity: Crimes against journalists go unresolved

Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders have highlighted prominent cases of impunity.

31 Oct 2017
BY GILBERT GAILLARD

No Impunity

Since 2004, over 700 journalists have been killed for their reporting. Nine out of 10 of these cases go unpunished.

Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform verified a number of reports of impunity since it began monitoring threats to press freedom across Europe in May 2014. Reporters Without Borders also tracks cases of violence against journalists in its annual press freedom barometer and its end-of-year round-up of journalists killed worldwide.

“The brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October is a stark reminder of the dangers journalists face for reporting in the public interest. Pressure must be brought to bear on government officials in all countries to ensure that crimes against journalists do not go unpunished,” Hannah Machlin, project manager for Mapping Media Freedom, said.

Impunity, which is defined as the exemption from punishment or paying reparation for a crime, goes hand-in-hand with authorities’ inaction when investigating both violent and nonviolent actions against journalists.

“Violence against journalists and impunity for their attackers has become all too common in many parts of the world, and alarmingly, is on the rise in Europe, particularly in cases of journalists investigating corruption. We reiterate our call for the creation of a UN Special Representative for the Safety of Journalists to address this vicious cycle”, said Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders.  

To condemn such crimes, increase accountability and defend the rights of media professionals, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists’ in 2013. It has since been observed to raise awareness of impunity and condemn violence against the media.

AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan journalist Afgan Mukhtarli

Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli

On 29 May 2017, investigative journalist and government critic Afgan Mukhtarli disappeared on his way home in Tbilisi, Georgia. Mukhtarli reappeared the next day across the border in Azerbaijan and was accused of illegal border crossing, resisting police and smuggling when police allegedly found €12,000 on his person. He was immediately sentenced to three months in pre-trial detention.

This case is unique in that it is the first cross-border operation alleged to be accompanied by the Georgian government. Azerbaijani lawmaker and a member of the Parliament Human Rights Committee Elman Nasirov claimed Mukhtarli’s kidnapping was “the most successful operation carried out in recent years”. Nasirov also accused him of being a member of a broader anti-Azerbaijan network. As a preventive mechanism, Nasirov claimed that Azerbaijani special forces made necessary arrangements with Georgian special forces.

Police have questioned political activists, members of opposition parties, and journalists as part of the investigation. Sevinc Vagifqizi, a freelance reporter, was detained while waiting outside the state border services where Mukhtarli was being held. Other journalists who have been questioned in the case of Mukhtarli are investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who is facing a travel ban despite her release from jail, and more recently, Aytac Ahmadova.

The circumstances of Mukhtarli’s arrest were also notable for the suspicious injuries he sustained. Outside of his abduction, Mukhtarli’s lawyer reported that he had suffered a broken nose, multiple bruises and a possible broken rib.

BELARUS

On 12 March 2017, Adarya Hushtyn, the editor for BelaPAN news agency, arrived from Minsk to the town of Orsha in the Vitsebsk region of Belarus to cover a protest against the tax on the unemployed which was to be held in the early afternoon.

When she arrived that morning, she was stopped at the railway station by the commander of the riot police squad to check her documents and press card. She was then detained by police officers together with Nasha Niva newspaper correspondent Siarhei Hoodzilin who had arrived to cover the same protest.

At the police station, both journalists were searched and informed that they were being checked for in the database of wanted people. Hushtyn was detained at the police station for nearly three hours without any explanation. She was only released after the protest she intended to report on was over.

Hushtyn filed a complaint against her illegal detention and was told that she was mistaken for another woman who was also wanted by the police. As it turned out, this woman was not only unlike the journalist but was found two weeks prior to Hushtyn’s detention. She also filed an application to the prosecutor’s office to initiate a criminal case under Article 198 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus “preventing from lawful professional activity of a journalist”, but was refused.

In March 2017, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) made an appeal to the Minister of Home Affairs calling on the authorities to investigative the mass violations of journalists’ rights. The reply was that police officers did not violate any law and that BAJ “has to stop ‘covering up’ and ‘justifying’ the people who have nothing to do with mass media”.

In March alone, 94 reporters were detained and 6 were beaten by the police while covering nationwide protests.

CZECH REPUBLIC

In April 1992, Václav Dvořák was shot and killed in front of his home. Dvořák was a journalist who uncovered information regarding František Mrázek, a controversial Czech entrepreneur once believed to be the boss of the Czech mob. Dvořák both published his reports locally or passed them along to national distributors. There are thirteen other murders thought to be linked to Dvořák’s.

After more than fourteen years, police identified Dvořák’s killer as gangster Bohuslav Hájek, who is believed to have been ordered by Mrázek to carry out the murder. However, Hájek disappeared in 2001 and it is believed that he was also murdered as an inconvenience and a witness to Mrázek’s operations.

GERMANY

On 6 July 2017 in Hamburg, Germany, police assaulted a number of journalists at the G20 protests.

Of the 35 investigations launched, 27 are accusations of assault perpetrated by police officers. At this time, none of the attackers have been arrested or convicted.

“There has been no police brutality,” Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg, claimed days after the protests during a televised interview.

On 8 July 32 journalists had their accreditation revoked by federal police without explicit reasoning. This launched an investigation by federal police, who discovered police files against the journalists contained incorrect information. Although there were errors made in police documents, it is unclear if the journalists have regained accreditation.

Journalists who lost accreditations include photographer Björn Kietzmann, Rafael Heygster (Weser Kurier), photographer for Junge Welt, Willi Effenberger Alfred Denzinger (Beobachter News), photographer Chris Grodotzki (Spiegel Online), Adil Yigit (Avrupa Postasi), editor Elsa Koester (Neues Deutschland) and freelance photographer Po Ming Cheung.

HUNGARY

On 15 July 2016 investigative journalist Csaba Móricz was insulted and then chased by the mayor of Érpatak, Orosz Mihály Zoltán, in a car. Earlier that day, Móricz went to Érpatak to document a city council meeting where he expected to ask questions to the mayor regarding a series of financial irregularities that he had uncovered.

At the beginning of the council meeting, instead of opening, the mayor launched into a fifteen-minute speech about the journalist, declaring him a “media rat” and “secret agent” several times, insinuating that Móricz lied about the financial situation in Érpatak for money. Two men then entered the room, one of which was Richárd Fügedi, a councillor of the far-right party Jobbik. One of the men then started threatening the journalist and asked: “Are you going to push me, Mr Móricz?“

The journalist left and drove away from the meeting, but soon realised that his vehicle was being followed by a group of three other cars – two of which belonged to the mayor‘s office. All cars involved were driving above the speed limit towards a nearby town when the journalist noticed a police patrol and decided to stop and ask for protection.

The police officers, instead of protecting the journalist, checked Móricz’s ID in the midst of a group of five people, including Mayor Zoltán and a second Jobbik MP. The group filmed the incident despite the journalist requesting they stop when his personal details, including his home address, were read aloud. Móricz had to insist to the police officers that they escort him to safety after initially being refused.

Just one month later, the authorities have opened an investigation against Móricz for breaking the speed limit. The investigation began when the website he works for wrote that he had to speed up to 140-150 km/h to escape his followers.

ITALY

Cosimo Cristina was born in Termini Imerese, an industrial village not far from Palermo, in 1935. He started working in the local newspaper L’Ora di Palermo when he was twenty. Later, he became a freelance contributor for several national newspapers and for the ANSA news agency.

In the late 1950’s, Cristina started to collect information about the clans of the Cosa Nostra, or the Sicilian mafia, in Palermo and Termini Imerese. In 1959 he published a new magazine titled “Prospettive Siciliane” (Sicilian Perspectives) with his friend Giovanni Capuzzo to cover stories on the mafia. This is when he started receiving death threats.

On 3 March 1960, he did not return home from work. Two days later, his corpse was discovered near to the railway, his skull broken. In his pockets he carried an ID and two letters; one for his fiancé and one for Capuzzo. In these letters Cristina begged for forgiveness for taking his own life. For the police it was a suicide and the case was closed. There was no further investigation or handwriting analysis on the letters found at the scene.

Five years later, police officer and expert on the Sicilian mafia Angelo Mangano began a new investigation. He knew Cristina had written several articles probing into the world of the Cosa Nostra. Mangano requested an autopsy on the corpse but the results confirmed the suicide, despite the doubts.

MALTA

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Daphne Caruana Galizia

On 16 October at around 3pm, Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed when the car she was driving exploded in Bidnija in what is thought to have been a targeted attack. Galizia filed a police report 14 days prior saying that she was being threatened.

“The barbaric murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is an attack on journalism itself. This crime is meant to intimidate every investigative journalist,” said Dr Lutz Kinkel, managing director of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.

“Because prime minister Joseph Muscat and parts of Malta’s political elite were targets of Galizia’s disclosures, we strongly recommend an independent investigation of this case. The killers have to be found and put on trial.”

On 17 October, Galizia’s family filed an application to Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera to abstain from investigating the case because of the court’s “flagrant conflict of interest”. Galizia and the magistrate share a history of conflict and critique.

Galizia has conducted numerous high profile corruption investigations and has been subject to dozens of libel suits and constant harassment. Because of her research, in February, her bank assets were frozen following a request filed by the economic minister.

Galizia has made numerous opponents in the Maltese government and business world and has investigated and linked such high officials as opposition leader Adrian Deliato offshore accounts and alleged prostitution, real estate investment owner Silvio Debono to public land takeover and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife to hiding payments from Azerbaijan.


London: Vigil for Daphne Caruana Galizia

Join us to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists by joining a vigil mourning the death of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered on Monday 16 October.

When: Thursday 2 November 1-2pm
Where: Malta High Commission, Malta House, 36-38 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 0LE (Map)


MONTENEGRO

On 1 November 2007 Tufik Softic, a Montenegrin journalist and reporter for the opposition daily newspaper Vijesti, was brutally beaten in front of his home in Berane by two hooded assailants wielding baseball bats. About six years later in August 2013, an explosive device was thrown into the yard of Softic’s family home. It was not until 2014 and broad international pressure on Montenegro that both cases began formally investigating.

On 17 July 2014, police arrested two men in the town of Budva under the suspicion of involvement in the attacks against Softic. After questioning by the state prosecutor, who also confiscated their passports, the men were released on the same day.

Ten years after the initial attack in February 2017, Softic filed a lawsuit against the state for ineffective investigation. The lawsuit claims that the state is responsible for mental pain and fear which Softic suffered and will suffer because of the danger of re-attack, the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro reported. The state, TUMM continued, “encouraged attackers by ineffective investigation and eventually, its ending”.

After years of stalemate, Softc initiated the trial for compensation for non-pecuniary damage related to human rights violations. He has since been awarded €7,000 as compensation for the ineffectual investigation and mental suffering he endured, becoming the first in Montenegro’s history to do so. Softic’s case is emblematic of the atmosphere of impunity in Montenegro and the broader Balkan region.

RUSSIA

Yulia Latynina

Yulia Latynina (Twitter)

After multiple life-threatening attacks, Yulia Latynina fled Russia. The columnist, contributor and writer works for independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, as well as radio station Echo Moskvy.

“I have left Russia in connection with threats to my life,” Latynina wrote on Twitter on 10 September. A week before on 3 September, her car was set on fire and completely destroyed. On July 2017 the journalist’s car and parent’s house were sprayed with noxious gas which led to the poisoning of eight people in the surrounding area. In a third incident on August 2016, faeces were poured onto Latynina while she was on her way to work at Echo Moskvy station.

In all three cases, a proper investigation was not carried out and the perpetrators were not found.

Also in Russia, on 9 March 2016, an attack was made on a minibus carrying journalists and human rights activists, near the border between Ingushetia and Chechnya. After no suspects had been identified, the investigation was suspended in February 2017. Although Ingushetia resumed the investigation after a public backlash, no progress has been made.

SERBIA

Three controversial murder cases from the nineties and early 2000’s remain unresolved in Serbia, with the most well-known case being the murder of journalist and newspaper publisher Slavko Ćuruvija outside of his apartment in Belgrade in 1999. It is believed that the order came from senior secret service officials during the regime of strongman Slobodan Milošević. Four former state security officials have been on trial for the murder as of December 2014, which continues to progress slowly. The lack of closure to the case after nearly two decades shows the perpetuation of state impunity in Serbia even after regime change.

The suspicious death of journalist Dada Vujasinović in 1994 also remains unsolved. Vujasinović is believed to have been murdered because of her published articles regarding war criminal Željko Ražnatović, better known as Arkan. She was found dead in her apartment in 1994. The police ruled it a suicide and nobody has been arrested or prosecuted to this day.

The third case is that of Večernje Novosti journalist Milan Pantić, who was murdered in 2001. He reported on criminal affairs and official corruption. As of June 2017, the police investigation had finally been completed and suspects have been identified, awaiting a trial. All three of these cases are being investigated by an independent commission established in 2013.

UKRAINE

Pavel Sheremet (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)

Pavel Sheremet (Photo: Ukrainska Pravda)

Journalist Pavel Sheremet‘s killing in a car bombing in Ukraine’s capital city on July 20, 2016, cast a chill over the country’s press corps, and the ongoing impunity for those behind the crime has continued to affect journalists’ ability to cover sensitive subjects.

Sheremet was killed when the car he was driving exploded in Kyiv. In a statement, Ukrainian police said that an explosive device detonated at 7.45am as Sheremet was driving to host a morning programme on Radio Vesti, where he had been working since 2015.

The car belonged to Sheremet’s partner, journalist Olena Prytula, who co-founded Ukrainska Pravda with murdered journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Sheremet had been imprisoned by Belarusian authorities in 1997 for three months before being deported to Russia. Though stripped of his citizenship in 2010, he continued to report on Belarus on his personal website. He moved to the Ukrainian capital in 2011 to work for the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.

There have been no arrests in the journalist’s murder.

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Mapping Media Freedom

Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in 42 European countries.

Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified over 3,600 violations against journalists and media outlets.

Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.

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Gilbert Gaillard

Gilbert Gaillard

Gilbert Gaillard is a third-year political science student at James Madison University from Virginia, USA. He is an intern at Index on Censorship.
Gilbert Gaillard

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