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International 24 November 2005

15 journalists killed in the Commonwealth in two years

Reporters Without Borders today urged Commonwealth heads of government to see that people killing journalists because of their work were duly punished, so the Commonwealth could become “a true home of democracy and freedom.”

It noted that 15 journalists had been killed in member-states Bangladesh, Gambia, India, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka since the last summit in December 2003 and that virtually all the killers were still walking free.

“The responsibility of the democratic countries meeting at the summit in Malta from 25 to 27 November - especially Britain - is to press leaders of those six states to stop such crimes and to punish them,” the worldwide press free freedom organisation said.

“Drastic steps must be urgently taken to penalise member-states that do not make genuine efforts to ensure press freedom and the safety of journalists.”

It said Presidents Yahya Jammeh of Gambia and Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka, as well as Bangladeshi home minister Lutfozzaman Babor, should be criticised by the summit for their “inability or unwillingness to put an end to the impunity enjoyed by those committing crimes against journalists in their countries.”

The media is the victim of the greatest violence in Bangladesh, where hundreds of journalists are attacked every year. Six have been killed since the 2003 summit and their killers are still at large. The most recent victim was Gautam Das, 28, correspondent of the daily Dainik Shamokal, who was brutally executed in Faridpur, west of the capital, just a few days ago, on 17 November, after investigating organised crime and abuses by local figures. He was found dead in his office with an arm and both legs broken and with neck injuries.

The murder in Gambia of Deyda Hydara, editor of the thrice-weekly paper The Point, has rocked the country’s politics for nearly a year. Hydara, who was also the local correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), was killed as he drove his car on 16 December 2004. He had fiercely criticised two new press laws, approved by parliament just before he died.

After two fact-finding missions (December 2004 and April 2005) to Gambia, Reporters Without Borders said his murder, by professional killers, was part of a years-long series of attacks on journalists and others disliked by the government, that involved the same methods and circumstances (unmarked vehicles, prior death threats). It pointed to the country’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) as the main suspect and found that Hydara had been threatened and spied on by state security services until a few minutes before his murder only a few steps from a police barracks.

Four men in Sri Lanka kidnapped Dharmeratnam Sivaram, 46, editor of the news website TamilNet and a columnist in the Daily Mirror newspaper, as he was leaving a bar in Colombo with friends, a few metres from the Bambalapitya police station, on 28 April this year. His body was found next day in the Himbulala neighbourhood, near parliament, with a bullet in his head and signs of a beating. A suspect was arrested in June but little progress has been made since then. Reporters Without Borders has called on the authorities several times to end impunity for the killers of journalists. Two others were murdered last year because of their work.

Journalists in Pakistan are the target of generalised violence, especially in South Waziristan. Amir Nawab Khan, cameraman for the broadcast news agency APTN and reporter for the daily The Frontier Post, was killed in an ambush near Wana in February this year along with Allah Noor Wazir, a reporter for the station Khyber TV, the daily paper The Nation and the German news agency DPA. An unknown group claimed responsibility 10 days later. Reporters Without Borders continues to urge the authorities to fully investigate the killings.

The murder in Sierra Leone this July of Harry Yansaneh, acting editor of the daily For di People, shocked the local media, and an autopsy showed he had died from the effects of being beaten two months earlier by henchmen of female member of parliament Fatmata Hassan Komeh, who belongs to the ruling party.

In India, Veeraboina Yadagini, who had been investigating illegal activities in the south of the country, was stabbed to death in February 2004, probably on the orders of local politicians.

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