Impunity for crimes against journalists remains global concern

Recently the world marked 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI). The Day is set aside to highlight the instrumental role of prosecutorial services in investigating and prosecuting not only killings but also threats of violence against journalists.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) observatory of killed journalists highlights a decrease in the killings of journalists; however, the global impunity rate remains very high. The impunity for crimes against journalists has led to covering up of some serious human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, physical assaults, crippling fines, use of or introduction of laws that are inimical to freedom of expression and killings, which are used as weapons to silence critical journalism in many countries.

The world body noted that between 2006 and 2020, about 142 journalists were killed in Africa, with 87 per cent of these killings remaining judicially unresolved or unreported, as recorded in the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists. The cycle of violence against journalists is often an indicator of the weakening of rule of law and of the judicial system. The judiciary has a critical role in addressing crimes against journalists.

The 2021 IDEI commemorations thus provide platforms for dialogue among prosecutors and journalists on preventive and protective measures to address the safety of journalists. “States have an obligation to protect journalists and to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against them are punished. Judges and prosecutors, in particular, have an important role to play in promoting swift and effective criminal proceedings,” said UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay.

In a statement by UNESCO to mark the day, it said, “online violence and harassment of women journalists remains a serious threat. Out of the 714 respondents to the UNESCO-ICFJ 2021 survey who identified as women, 1 in 4 experienced threats of physical violence, 4 in 10 appeared to be targeted by orchestrated disinformation campaigns, a quarter experienced mental health impacts and only 1 in 10 reported online violence to the police.

The IDEI commemorations thus pay attention to discussions on mapping strategies to address online and gender-based threats against women journalists.” In alignment with the recommendations of the Windhoek +30 Declaration, adopted at the culmination of the 2021 World Press Freedom Day, the 2021 IDEI contributes towards the safety and independence of journalists to enhance the nurturing of media viability.

UNESCO continues to encourage governments, civil society, the media, and everyone concerned to uphold the rule of law and join in the global efforts to end impunity for crimes against journalists. In commemoration of the Day, stakeholders converged on Abuja, Tuesday, October 2, 2021, to discuss “Countering Threats of Violence Against Journalists, The Role of CSOs and Other Non-state Actors.”

The programme was organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) in partnership with Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ). He said CSOs and non-state actors including the various professional groups, trade unions, academics, etc., are critical voices that should be heard on the issue of the safety of journalists.

“It is often a matter of irony that individuals and groups that regularly harp on the role that the media should play in democracy and development, usually keep mute when the same media comes under attack as it has often been the case,” he said Speaking on this year’s campaign theme, Mr Arogundade said it highlights the psychological trauma experienced by journalists who are victims of threats and raises awareness on the importance of investigating and prosecuting those allegedly responsible in order to end impunity for such crimes.

Also speaking at the event, the EU-ACT National Programme Manager, Damilare Babalola, said the European Union supported the implementation of the programme to provide a platform for civil society groups and other stakeholders to reflect, ponder and resolve on how to ensure that the journalism profession is considered as part of the broader concept of civil society and as a worthy practice so that practitioners remain free from all forms of threats and violence. She said the EU assessment is that journalism in Nigeria remains one of the most vibrant in the continent.

“We have trust in the Nigerian journalists. We admire your courage as you continue reporting even in hostile conditions and to promote peace and democracy,” she said. In his submission, the Chairman of the event, Umaru Pate, said journalists’ safety must remain paramount to the state, lamenting that he had lost six journalists whom he helped train at the University of Maiduguri and Bayero University Kano to insurgents. The academic harped on the need to improve the welfare of journalists.

“You cannot talk about ending impunity when journalists live a life of poverty and penury with no retirement plan,” Mr Pate, the vice-chancellor of Federal University Kashere, said. IN a similar event held in Lagos, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) has urged the Federal Government to prevail on security agents across the country to stop allowing themselves to be used to suppress, oppress and intimidate journalists in the country.

The call came at an event organised by Safety and Security Watch, in collaboration with the NUJ, Lagos Council, in Lagos, to mark this year’s World Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The Lagos Council Chairman of the union, Mr. Adeleye Ajayi, through the Vice-Chairman, Mrs. Abiola Beckley, at the event, said: “Cases of killed and missing journalists are becoming more worrisome.

“A few days ago, the NUJ in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, staged a peaceful protest at the Force Headquarters for the safe return of the missing journalist, Tordue Henry Salem of Vanguard Newspapers.

“The journalists urged the Inspector General of Police, IGP, to ensure that the journalist, who has been missing since October 13, is returned alive to his family.

“They urged the IGP to step up intelligence and investigation to unravel the mysterious disappearance of Salem.

“We are also calling on the Federal Government to reopen the investigation of journalists killed in the past, and to look into cases of journalists that were killed, attacked, kidnapped and detained, as well as make concrete efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the acts.”

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