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UK / Northern Ireland13 November 2006

Police deny protection to journalist facing death threats

The British authorities have refused to extend a protection programme to a reporter facing deaths threats on the Northern Ireland newspaper, Sunday World, for which journalist Martin O’Hagan was working when he was murdered by a loyalist paramilitary in September 2001. No-one has been brought to justice for the killing.

“Reporters Without Borders joins Index on Censorship and Article 19 in condemning this decision,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“The murder of Martin O’Hagan reminds us that investigative journalists in Northern Ireland risk their lives. Several media, including the Sunday World, work constantly under threat from the paramilitary groups, which forces them into self-censorship. We call on the British government not to take threats against the Sunday World reporter so lightly and to give him the protection he needs,” it added.

For security reasons, the Sunday World declined to name their reporter under threat, who has often investigated the activities of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. After receiving a third death threat in August this year, he informed the police about it. They advised him to take extra security precautions and to apply for help under the government’s Key Persons Protection Scheme.

At the start of November, security minister in the Northern Ireland Office Paul Goggins, conceded that the journalist faced a “substantial threat”, but refused to include him in the protection programme, saying : “You are not employed in one of the occupations normally covered by the scheme, and therefore have failed to meet the requirements of the criterion. I have also concluded that you are not occupying a wider public role which is contributing to the objectives of the scheme."

This refusal has been criticised by several press freedom organisations which fear that journalists in Northern Ireland could suffer the same fate as Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered on 7 October.

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