The cost of journalism; at least 13 journalists killed in 6 months for their reporting

Date:

The India Press Freedom Report 2020, released by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, highlights the reality of the safety of journalists in India. The report points out that 228 journalists, including 12 female journalists, and two media houses were targeted during the year. Thirteen journalists were killed, 37 were arrested or detained and 101 were physically assaulted. 

Referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy, journalism is an essential limb in the body of a free nation and world. But both journalists and journalism have always been silenced, oppressed or done injustice to, by powerful groups and individuals, throughout history. 

Journalism is a profession that literally bears the weight of freedom on its shoulders. Adding the risk factor to the low payroll and high volatility, lack of personal security, lack of job security and gruesome working hours, it almost becomes an injustice to journalists who risk their lives to ensure that the voice of the people survives and is heard. 

Frequent reports of journalists being harassed by mobs, beaten up and thrashed by police and silenced by powerful people, have become a new normal for us. Be it the recent case of journalists being beaten up by local police in Srinagar or the pegasus case, a whole new disgusting level of a breach of privacy which cannot be emphasized enough. 

Someone randomly asking one to check their phone might give them a mini panic attack. Imagine the entirety of your activities on your phone being tracked and kept an eye on. More than 40 journalists from India alone had to face this harassment. 

Many others continue to languish in jails charged under various draconian laws for their critical reporting of those with power. 

According to CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) data, in only the past six months, at least 13 proficient journalists were killed around the globe and most of the culprits involved in these killings are still at large.

● Sulabh Srivastava, a journalist who used to cover crime was killed in Pratapgarh District of Uttar Pradesh, India, due to his critical reporting of a criminal liquor-selling group on June 13, 2021. He was killed because of it. Local labourers had found his body near a brick kiln. Upon being rushed to the hospital, he was declared dead at arrival. Police initially said that he died in a motorcycle accident on his way home after reporting, but a postmortem inspection and reports revealed that he had been threatened for his recent work. Pratap had a feeling that he was being followed and had even filed a complaint to police a day before his death, over threats he received.

● Danish Siddiqui, a photo-journalist who used to cover human rights, politics & war was killed in crossfire while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the town of Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan on July 16, 2021. There was impartial impunity for his killers. 

● Ricardo Domínguez López, a journalist who used to cover crime & politics, was shot and killed in the late afternoon on July 22, 2021, his 47th birthday, by an unknown assailant using a .38 calibre handgun in a parking lot of a convenience store in the city of Guaymas, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. Reports say that Ricardo was killed due to his reporting. Those responsible for his death are still at large.

● Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, a journalist who used to cover crime & politics was attacked by two attackers on June 17, 2021. The attackers crashed their car into Sánchez while he was travelling on a motorcycle with his 15-year-old son, according to news reports and a report by the municipal police in Tehuantepec. Sánchez and his son fell from the motorcycle, and the men then exited their car and shot and killed Sánchez. 

● Maharram Ibrahimov and Siraj Abishov, two colleague journalists who used to cover war were on assignment in Azerbaijan’s Kalbajar district, near Nagorno-Karabakh, on June 4, 2021, when the vehicle they were riding in hit a planted landmine, killing both journalists at the scene. Culprits are still at large. 

● Mina Khairi, a journalist who used to cover business, corruption, crime, culture, human rights, politics, sports & war was killed on June 3, 2021, as unidentified attackers detonated an improvised explosive device attached to a van carrying her. The explosion killed Khairi, her mother, and two other passengers, and also injured the journalist’s sister, according to those sources. 

● Sisay Fida, a journalist who used to cover business & culture was shot by two unidentified attackers on the evening of May 9, 2021, when he was walking home from a wedding. Those responsible for his death are still at large. 

● David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, a pair of journalists who used to cover crime, human rights & war and corruption, crime, human rights, politics & war respectively, were kidnapped by unidentified attackers on April 26, 2021. The next day, Beriain and Fraile were confirmed to have been killed by those attackers in Pama, Burkina Faso. 

● Jamal Farah Adan, a journalist who used to cover corruption, crime, human rights & politics was shot dead by two unidentified men on March 1, 2021, in Galkayo, Somalia. In a January 2 Facebook video, Jamal claimed to have survived an assassination attempt. Those responsible for his death are still at large. 

● Lokman Slim, a Freelance journalist who used to cover Human Rights and politics, was shot dead in his car on February 3, 2021, in Lebanon. A murder was reported. According to that NNA report, Slim was shot four times in the head and once in the back. Slim, a prominent columnist and political commentator known for his stance against the Shia political party and militant group Hezbollah, frequently received threats for his work relating to the group. 

● Borhan Uddin Muzakkir a journalist at Barta Bazar, Bangladesh Samachar, was shot in the throat while covering clashes in the street between two factions of the ruling Awami League party, in the Companiganj area of southern Noakhali district on February 20, 2021. 

The sense of insecurity and fear has become so strong that on 7th August 2021, journalists in Delhi got together to demand a probe into the oppression faced by them. 

A meeting called “Save Journalism Day’ was called by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) at the Press Club of India. Various representatives of various journalist organisations and from the legal fraternity attended the meeting in the backdrop of writ petitions being filed in the Supreme Court by five journalists, whose phones were infected by Pegasus spyware, demanding a fair probe into the matter of violation of privacy and their fundamental rights. 

Present at the meeting, senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said India was now becoming one of the most unsafe countries for journalists. He said, “oppression, intimidation and surveillance can be met with unmatched defiance and awareness.” 

Adding, he says, “This is the stage we are at after 75 years of Independence. The modus operandi of the government has assumed a certain gradation — if you can’t shut down people with defamation, then shut them down with sedition.”

However, despite journalists highlighting these grave threats repeatedly, the government continues to deny any attack on press freedom. Quartz reported that during the ongoing Monsoon session of Parliament, information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur said in the Rajya Sabha that though the government has seen reports of India’s press freedom index ranking, it does not consider these relevant. “ 

Why is it that the pleas of those who make sure that pleas of the distressed are heard, not being heard? When will journalism and journalists get the respect, liberty and freedom they need and deserve? We hope that true journalism survives these tough times and comes out bold.

Saad Ansari
Saad Ansari
Saad Ansari has a deep interest in analysing domestic and global newsworthy incidents. Inquisitive extroverted and a writer at heart, he loves understanding things and then forming a perspective to intrigue over. Currently, he is pursuing BA in Multimedia and Mass Communication at Bunts Sangha's SM Shetty College, Powai. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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