In many parts of the world, the fight for freedom of information and expression is a brutal one
Last month I took the painful decision to leave the National Union of Journalists after more than 10 years membership. My hand was forced when it became clear that the NUJ was supporting the government and not – as it should have done – journalists. It supported the government when, for the first time in over 300 years, politicians were granted power over the press.
This is grim and unsettling. Nevertheless we must appreciate that as journalists in the UK, though the drift is in the wrong direction, we are not endangered like so many foreign colleagues.
Last year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 1,993 journalists were threatened or physically attacked across the globe, 879 were arrested, 73 fled their country and 88 were killed. The death rate was 33 per cent more than the previous year.
Stationed all over the world, these writers, in their quest to uncover the truth, have paid the ultimate price. History is not only repeating itself, but outdoing itself, and persecutions among these regimes of restriction and censorship are rife.
In Somalia, 18 journalists were killed in 2012 – twice as many than in 2009. Seven were killed in September alone, one of whom was beheaded. In Syria, at least 17 journalists were killed, and a reported six were killed in Mexico.
In Russia on 8 April, five years after being savagely attacked by two assailants bearing metal rods, Mikhail Beketov died. Before the attack – in which he lost a leg, several fingers and his ability to speak – Beketov, who edited the Khimkinskaya Pravda, was threatened over publishing a series of exposés about a road project that was set to destroy parts of a forest. His freedom of speech and mission to voice his concerns left him, quite literally, silenced.
Again, we return to Russia and the omnipotent regime of Putin, where freedom of information is increasingly on the decline. Seven years have passed since the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism winner, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot and killed in the lift of her block of flats for her investigative work, but even though her death was well-documented (over 3,000 mourners went to her funeral), journalists are no safer in the former Soviet Union. Just last month Russian journalists Andrei Chelnokov and Boris Komarov were violently attacked within a week of each other. Chelnokov suffered from memory loss and was missing for 10 days after being struck on the head by a blunt object on April 1st, and on April 8th, the very same day that Beketov died, Komarov had to be hospitalised after being badly beaten by two masked assailants.
In India, Shehla Masood, a Right to Information blogger and activist, was shot dead in front of her home in Bhopal. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most censored countries, dogged with repressive legislation and online surveillance.
The statistics are frightening, and though time moves on, the story stays the same. Freedom of information, expression and speech are being siphoned away by authorities. And so we must salute our fellow journalists who continue to put their lives on the line for the job, the comrades who refuse to fall into the shadowy abyss of censorship – they are the true heroes of our trade.
Additional research by Alice Audley.
Featured image: Anna Politkovskaya http://en.rian.ru/images/16438/48/164384883.jpg
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