United Kingdom - Northern Ireland27 September 2005
Martin O’Hagan not forgotten four years after his unsolved murder
On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the murder of Irish investigative journalist Martin O’Hagan of the Sunday World on 28 September 2001 near Belfast, in Northern Ireland, Reporters Without Borders today called on the British authorities not to abandon their investigation into this unsolved crime.
“Let us not forget that O’Hagan was killed for doing his job,” the press freedom organisation said. “This unpunished murder highlights the dangers that often exist for journalists working in Northern Ireland, especially those probing sensitive issues. We call on Peter Hain, the British minister for Northern Ireland, to promise to pursue the investigation into O’Hagan’s murder until the truth is revealed and those responsible are punished.”
O’Hagan was probably the first journalist to be deliberately murdered by Northern Ireland’s loyalist paramilitary militias. He was almost certainly killed for investigating collusion between the Northern Irish police, military intelligence, armed groups and drug gangs. Seamus Dooley, the Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists, and many of O’Hagan’s former colleagues continue to condemn the “wall of silence” around the police investigation.
Since the start of the investigation, eight suspects have been arrested and then released for lack of proof. The police have denied claims by journalists that some of the suspects were cleared because they were former police informants.
O’Hagan’s murder marked a shift in the security climate for journalists in Northern Ireland. “The number of journalists threatened by loyalist groups in 2001 was no more than three, but today it is more like 15,” said the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in the United Kingdom.
The Sunday World was the target of a campaign of intimidation this summer after it ran several reports about the lavish lifestyle of certain Protestant armed group members who are also organised crime leaders. Several newspaper vendors in loyalist neighbourhoods were repeatedly the victims of paramilitary violence aimed at forcing them to stop selling the Sunday World.
“If this kind of intimidation took place on the streets of Liverpool or Manchester and if the newspapers in those cities were targeted like ours is, there would have been a national outcry, but as it is happening in Northern Ireland, no one seems to pay any attention,” Sunday World editor Jim MacDowell told Reporters Without Borders.
Aged 51, O’Hagan was gunned down in Lurgan, near Belfast, as he was returning home from a night out with his wife. The day after his murder, a caller to the BBC claimed responsibility on behalf of the “The Red Hand Defenders,” a name used by loyalist paramilitary groups, especially the “Loyalist Volunteer Force” (LVF).