Getting Away With Murder
CPJ’s 2010 Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain and killers go free
New York, April 20, 2010—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.
“We’ve heard repeated pledges from governments that the killers of journalists will face justice, but until these promises are fulfilled, media will continue to be targeted by those who believe they are above the law and immune from consequences,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “One country, Brazil, made its way off this list of shame by investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators in these crimes.”
This is the third year CPJ has published its Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. In compiling the index, CPJ examined journalist murders in every nation in the world for the years 2000 through 2009. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index, a threshold reached by 12 countries this year.
Two countries immersed in conflict top the list. Iraq is at number one with 88 unsolved journalist murders, while Somalia is second, reflecting insurgents’ routine use of violence to control the news media. But many of the remaining countries on the index present themselves as democracies with functioning law enforcement, nations such as India, Russia, the Philippines, and Mexico.
In the Philippines, a record 30 journalists and two media support workers were brutally murdered in an election-related massacre in Maguindanao province in 2009, catapulting the country from sixth to third on the index. The massacre overshadowed gains that Philippine authorities had made, winning convictions in two journalist murders. In Russia, which is ranked eighth on the index, three journalists were slain in 2009, bringing the country’s 10-year total of unsolved murders to 18. Mexico moved up two spots, to ninth, reflecting the ongoing, unchecked violence against crime reporters in that country.
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.
CPJ developed the Impunity Index in 2008 to monitor trends over time in countries where journalists are regularly murdered and law enforcement falters. It is compiled as part of CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity, which seeks justice in the murders of journalists. Underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the campaign has focused on two of the world’s worst offenders, Russia and the Philippines.
“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.
Among the other findings in CPJ’s Impunity Index:
- Impunity in media killings is acute in South Asia. Six nations in the region—Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India—are included on the 2010 list.
- Worldwide, more than 90 percent of victims are local reporters covering sensitive topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries.
- In Brazil, prosecutors recently won convictions against four men, including three members of the military police, in the 2007 murder of Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho. Brazilian authorities have successfully prosecuted several other journalist murders in recent years. With only four unsolved murders still on the books, Brazil no longer meets the threshold for inclusion on the index.
- Some other notable convictions took place in the last year. In the Philippines, a suspect was convicted in the 2006 murder of Armando Pace, while another defendant was convicted in the 2005 killing of Edgar Amoro. In a landmark Colombian case, three former public officials were convicted on charges of plotting the 2003 murder of radio commentator Jose Emeterio Rivas.
- Threats against journalists are a key indicator, CPJ research shows. In at least four out of every 10 journalist murders, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed.
- Killers of journalists aim to send a chilling message to the entire news media. Almost a third of murdered journalists were either taken captive or tortured before their death.
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.
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
Andal Ampatuan Jr., a local mayor and chief suspect in the Maguindanao massacre, is led into court in Manila. (AP)
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
4 SRI LANKA
A portrait of slain editor Lasantha Wickramatunga. (AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi)
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 13 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
A vigil for the murdered reporter Uma Singh. (Reuters/Shruti Shrestha)
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
Estemirova is remembered at a Moscow service. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
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
A protester seeks justice in the Khankhel murder. (Reuters/Athar Hussain)
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
CPJ's Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population. CPJ examined every nation worldwide for the period January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2009. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this index.
Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.
CPJ defines murder as a deliberate attack against a specific journalist in relation to the victim's work. Murders make up more than 70 percent of work-related deaths among journalists, according to CPJ research. This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while carrying out dangerous assignments such as coverage of street protests.
Where available, population data from the World Bank's 2009 World Development Indicators were used in this index. For Iraq and Afghanistan, CPJ relied on the U.N. Population Division’s World Population Prospects 2008.
CPJ consulted Mary Gray, professor of mathematics and statistics at American University in Washington, when initially developing its methodology in 2008. Gray has served on the boards and committees of groups such as Amnesty International. In 2001, Gray received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
CPJ's Impunity Index looks specifically at unsolved journalist murders. On an ongoing basis, CPJ maintains a comprehensive database of all journalists killed in the line of duty and narrative capsules that detail the circumstances of each case. Our interactive map breaks down trends by country and year.
CPJ welcomes comments about this index.
Unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants for 2000-2009. Only nations with five or more unsolved cases are included. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.
Population data sources:
Unless otherwise indicated, 2009 World Development Indicators, World Bank
* World Population Prospects 2008, United Nations Population Division
Click on country links to view CPJ's comprehensive database of journalists murdered. The database covers the years 1992-2010.
For a detailed explanation of CPJ's methodology, click here.