An editor of the Sunday World newspaper has called for “justice to be served” as the 18th anniversary of the unsolved murder of journalist Martin O’Hagan approaches. Reporters at the Irish newspaper continue to receive regular threats from paramilitaries, he said.
Speaking to Index, Richard Sullivan, the northern editor at the Sunday World, said: “O’Hagan was dedicated to his craft as an investigative journalist and he paid the heaviest of prices for trying to make his homeland a better place”. He expressed frustration that the investigation into O’Hagan’s murder has come to nothing; prosecutors dropped the case in January 2013 citing a risk of basing it on unsubstantiated evidence.
“We are in despair that those responsible for Martin’s death remain at large, but we will continue to keep his case in the public eye in the hope that one day justice will be served,” Sullivan said.
Meanwhile, staff at the Sunday World, the second largest selling newspaper in the Republic of Ireland and also on sale in Northern Ireland, continue to work under considerable pressure from paramilitary organisations. “It’s been 18 years since he was shot and killed; in that time Sunday World journalists continue to work under constant threat. As recently as January this year a journalist on this newspaper was given 48 hours to get out of the country or be killed. It is a sad indictment that in 2019 journalists working in a major UK city continue to have their lives placed under threat,” said Sullivan.
On 26 August 2019, the European/International Federation of Journalists and Index on Censorship filed an alert with the Council of Europe regarding the continued impunity for O’Hagan’s murder. The platform’s 2019 annual report, warned that “a climate of impunity has started to take hold in parts of Europe” and called for “the swift completion of a transparent and effective investigations and prosecutions leading to the punishment of all those found responsible.”
Eighteen years ago this month, O’Hagan was murdered in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. He was shot several times from a passing car while walking home from a pub with his wife on 28 September 2001. Although the Red Hand Defenders – a nom de guerre used by the Loyalist Volunteer Force – claimed responsibility for his murder, his killers have never been brought to justice. Until Lyra McKee’s death earlier this year, O’Hagan had been the only journalist to be killed in Northern Ireland.
O’Hagan was an investigative reporter with the Sunday World newspaper, specialising in stories about drug gangs and paramilitaries. He had repeatedly been threatened by both republican and loyalist paramilitaries as a result of his work. He had previously served five years in jail for gun running for the IRA.
In 1989, the Provisional IRA “invited” him to interview them, but instead abducted him and threatened him with torture and death. He was released with a warning after successfully convincing them that he had not worked as a police informer. After O’Hagan exposed LVF member Billy Wright as a sectarian assassin in 1992, Wright threatened O’Hagan and attempted to have him killed. O’Hagan left Northern Ireland on advice from the police, and only returned after the paramilitary ceasefires in 1995.
Paramilitary organisations have long targeted staff at the Sunday World. In 1984, one former journalist from the paper was seriously wounded when he was shot by the Ulster Volunteer Force. Another has repeatedly said he could have “wallpapered a room” with the 21 death threats that were passed on to him by police. In October 1992, two gunmen held staff at gunpoint before planting a bomb in the office doorway – journalists were forced to jump over the bomb as they fled. And in January 1999, the outlet’s Belfast offices were badly damaged in an arson attack.
Last year on the 17th anniversary of O’Hagan’s killing, the National Union of Journalists renewed their call on the Irish and British governments to commission an independent investigation into his murder. “Martin’s murder was a matter of international concern and the failure of the police to apprehend those who killed him is still of concern to all who care about human rights and the right of journalists to operate freely and without threat,” said NUJ Secretary, Séamus Dooley.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1567701911745-37eade37-ad90-4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, dozens of activists and journalists gathered outside the Turkish Embassy in London to protest the arrest and imprisonment of journalists in Turkey. Index on Censorship joined Amnesty International, English Pen, Article 19 and others bearing signs and messages of hope.
Following the failed military coup in July of 2016, the Turkish government has unleashed a massive crackdown on its opposition, specifically targeting journalists, media outlets and educators.
Since then, over 150 journalists have been detained and over 170 media outlets have been shut down, resulting in an additional 2,500 journalists being out of work. Turkey is now the number one jailer of journalists in the world.
Seamus Dooley, the acting general secretary of the Nation Union of Journalists, addressed the protest, which took place across the street from the embassy: “We may be on the wrong side of the road but we are on the right side of history.”
Dooley highlighted the importance of coming out to protest in support of Turkey’s journalists, regardless of the weather: “Solidarity is the most important thing we can give them. Although this may seem like a dark time, the fact we are still with them shines a light on it.”
Many protesters stressed the importance of continuing to campaign until those being silenced in Turkey are free.
Ulrike Schmidt, Amnesty International
Ulrike Schmidt of Amnesty International said: “As a human rights organisation it’s our job to speak out. It’s World Press Freedom Day so we’re standing here to support the journalists in Turkey. We will keep campaigning until they can do their work again.”
Others spoke out specifically about friends who had been detained as a result of the crackdown. Two of the protesters (pictured below) came specifically to highlight the case of Ahmet Sik, a journalist with the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, who is currently being tried on accusations of spreading terrorist propaganda as well as insulting the state.
Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.
Each week, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project verifies threats, violations and limitations faced by the media throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries. Here are just five reports from 9-16 February that give us cause for concern.
1. Ireland: Reporters receive death threats amid Dublin’s gangland feud
Irish secretary for the National Union of Journalists Seamus Dooley said he was “gravely concerned” by the threats. “Journalists and media organisations will not be intimidated by such threats, which have no place in a democratic society,” he said.
The death threats come almost 20 years after the high-profile murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, who dared to investigate organised crime in Dublin. “Successive governments have let down the memory of Veronica … by failing to provide the resources required to beat the gangs,” said Jimmy Guerin, brother of Veronica.
2. Romania: Journalist faces campaign of cyberbullying and online threats
Boróka Parászka, an ethnic Hungarian publicist and editor working at the public radio in Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureş area, has become the victim of cyberbullying and online abuse. On 10 February, an online petition was published entitled We Are Sick and Tired of Parászka, which appealed to media outlets not to publish or broadcast any of the journalist’s “left-liberal” work. It claims her pieces are “subversive” (felforgató), that she aggressively attacks everything “Hungarian” and she “undermines the community interests”.
In the wake of the petition, derogatory messages were sent to Parászka via Facebook, including anti-Semitic slurs, sexual comments and threats of violence.
Some Romanian journalists have criticised the draft law as a means to protect politicians from criticism. “This law aims to protect the politicians from being criticised for their actions,” TV producer Radu Banciu said. “In the name of defending tolerance of group differences, they just want to control not only the mass media but also Facebook and other social media.”
4. Greece: New media law limits national TV channels
While there were no casualties, a fire broke out in front of the building and some vehicles were damaged. Firefighters rushed to the scene as police cordoned off the area. Tight security measures were put in place around the building.
The United States Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, and his German counterpart Martin Erdmann have condemned the attack. “No violence against journalists is acceptable. Free and polyphonic press is essential to a democratic society,” said Bass.