The International Day to End Impunity is celebrated every Nov. 23 since 2011 to mark the anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines. Thirty-two journalists were murdered while covering the governor’s race in the country's Maguindanao province. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the Maguindanao massacre the "deadliest event for the press since 1992." Philippines' former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has yet to bring the criminals to justice and hold the perpetrators accountable for the killings.
The International Day to End Impunity demands justice for those who have been targeted for exercising their rights for freedom of speech. More than 500 journalists have been killed in the past 10 years, and in 9 out of 10 of these cases, the murderers have walked free.
During a meeting held by the CPJ last year, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, said, “Targeting journalism has become a trend, and now the people who are harassing and killing journalists include governments as well as the people you would expect.”
On its website, the International Day to End Impunity states that murder is the ultimate form of censorship and is happening all across the world.
The Middle East's ongoing political turmoil has "experienced a net decline for the year" regarding free press, according to a Freedom House Report. In the midst of political conflict for the past three years, Syria has become increasingly dangerous for journalists. It is now classified as the deadliest place to be a reporter, Global Journalist reported. According to Reporters Without Borders, 60 news providers have been detained and more than 110 have been killed since the war started in Syria.
In Iran, although the new president has pledged to work toward social reforms, there have been attacks against the media. This month the government banned a daily reformist newspaper for publishing an article considered to be critical of the Islamic law.
Moreover, the political turmoil in Egypt has also claimed the lives of journalists. A reporter was killed, seven where injured, and one journalist was raped while covering the demonstrations against the then-president Mohamed Morsi in July. Two months later, a journalist was arrested for allegedly reporting false information about military operations. A blogger was sentenced to jail for insulting the armed forces, and another online activist was prosecuted for allegedly "inciting violence." According to Reporters Without Borders, there have been six journalists murdered, and four imprisoned since Egypt's Spring took place.
In Latin America, there have been attacks against the free press mainly in Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico. The further tightening of controls on press freedom was punctuated by the decline of two countries, Ecuador and Paraguay, from Partly Free to Not Free status, according to Freedom House, an international freedom watchdog. Mexico has become a dangerous place for journalists since the drug war peaked in 2007. The watchdog labelled the country as ‘Not Free’ in 2011. Although this year it has been moved back to ‘Partly Free’, freedom of speech is still censured. Last month, more than 15 journalists were assaulted by the police while covering a demonstration that marked the 45th anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre when students were killed by the police. In Brazil, free press advocates are alarmed by the increase in violence against the media after a journalist was killed and another was wounded last month.
Independent media continues to suffer repression in authoritarian regimes. In Russia, journalists are prosecuted for criticizing the government. An editor from a newspaper known to speak against the government was shot to death four months ago. The Russian police detained two Norwegian journalists this month because they were reporting on the preparations of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
In Myanmar, although there have been recent developments in the release of 69 prisoners of conscience that was proclaimed by the state to be an act of "benevolence and loving kindness," Burma continues to pass laws aimed to attack the free press and persecute reporters.
Kenya's Parliament has also passed a law that threatens the free press. The Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Bill set up a state-controlled tribunal that creates a code of conduct for journalists. If journalists break this code, they can be fined or their properties can be taken. The bill gives the tribunal the power to force journalists out of their professions and restrict content.
The presence of militant Islamist groups in countries such as Somalia have also taken a toll on press freedom. Al-Shabab has banned televisions in a Somali town because they considered it to violate Islamic law. The Nigerian-based Islamist sect, Boko Haram, has also been accused of targeting journalists. The sect said they would target reporters because the media was quoting them, BBC reported. Last month Boko Haram was accused by the Nigerian authorities of killing a cameraman who worked for the state-run television.
As the Internet has become a way for activists to criticize their government, there has been a crackdown on bloggers and online activists especially in Vietnam, China and Russia. Vietnamese blogger Quoc Quan was sentenced to 30 years in jail for tax evasion. He ran a popular blog through which he spoke out against the government corruption and its human rights abuses. The online dissident was arrested nine days after the BBC published an article he wrote about possible amendments to the Vietnamese constitution. The Chinese government has also been suppressing online whistleblowers. A Chinese journalist was detained for exposing the misconducts in the high ranks of the Communist Party. Equally, the Russian government has started to censor the Internet through laws that ban certain content the government deems to be illegal or harmful to children. They have required Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material they considered to be "objectionable", reported The New York Times.
"As a result of declines in both authoritarian and democratic settings over the past several years, the proportion of the global population that enjoys a free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade," Freedom House wrote in its latest report. It found that roughly one-sixth of the world's people live in countries where the safety of journalists is guaranteed.
The Committee to Protect Journalist has released a report, titled "Getting Away With Murder," that ranks the countries where journalists are slain and their killers don't face justice. Their index shows 12 countries where impunity is at its highest: Iraq, Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afganistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria and India.
The Day To End Impunity campaign is sponsored by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX). The campaign’s video not only invites citizens to remain informed but prompts them to act and demand justice.
Today, Global Journalist joins the efforts to shed light on the culture of impunity that allows perpetrators to gag those who exercise freedom of expression: reporters, writers, photographers, cartoonists, artists and bloggers. We at Global Journalist support the effort to challenge the powerful who abuse their position and champion the fight to end the suppression of free speech.
By Maria Jose Valero.