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Corruption in Russia Increasingly Deadly for Journalists and Activists

The headline on the Reporters Without Borders homepage today read “Russia: From Bad to Worse.” And certainly after the deaths of activist Nataliya Estemirova and journalist Anna Politkovskaya (pictured above) that made international headlines last month, the situation in Russia seems to be quickly deteriorating.

Two human rights activists, Alik Dzhabrailov and his wife Zarema Sadulayeva, were found shot dead in Chechnya on Tuesday, the same day journalist Malik Akhmedilov was found murdered. The deaths have lead to greater government scrutiny and even harsh words from EU representatives.

“It is important that an investigation into these latest murders is conducted promptly, transparently and thoroughly.” said the Swedish president. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

It is a point that needs to be addressed in a country that has been unable to find or prosecute many human rights and journalism victims, in some cases undoubtedly because of government involvement. Such was the case in the investigation and trial that went no where for slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The EU Observer reports that two Chechen newspapers pulled out of the country in recent days due to safety concerns. Two NGOs have also left in recent days.

Amnesty International says, “The light of public scrutiny is gradually being turned off in Chechnya. First, international organizations and journalists were banned from the region, and now, local civil society is being eliminated.”

Press intimidation can no longer be considered a rare occurrence in the region. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 141 out of 173 for press freedom.

For an interesting way to grasp the corruption that occurs in the country, this unique graph from Information is Beautiful breaks down how billions of dollars is spent around the world. According to the chart, bribes to Russian officials come in at a staggering $316 billion. That is just under the $320 billion spent on worldwide drug trafficking, not to mention the $54 billion it would take to feed every child in the world for a year, according to the chart.

Photo Credit: AFP

New Daniel Pearl Act to Spotlight Violations of Press Freedom

The murder of Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl made headlines worldwide, but many other crimes against journalists go unreported and unnoticed. Now, with the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act that was passed by the House last week, the U.S. State Department will play a larger role in identifying crimes against journalists.

The U.S. government will now investigate and identify countries with violations of press freedom and highlight those that participate in, facilitate, or condone violations of press freedom. It will become the State Department’s duty to investigate imprisonment, direct censorship, and physical attacks against journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists points out just how many violations and murders occur across all corners of the world, with most of us never finding out about them.

“How many people have heard of, say, Uma Singh, a Nepalese radio reporter and women’s rights activist who was stabbed to death this year in January by about 15 unidentified assailants in her home, or of Eliseo Barrón Hernández, a Mexican newspaperman who was beaten by hooded gunmen in May in front of his family before being abducted to have his tortured corpse discovered the next day, or of Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, a Somali radio reporter who was shot repeatedly in the head last month by unknown gunmen as he and a colleague, who was also wounded, were walking to work,” writes Frank Smyth of the CPJ.

At least 532 journalists have been murdered while reporting and according to CPJ, nearly 9 out of ten of the murders get away with it.

Photo: The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

The Media Iron Curtain in Russia, The Third Deadliest Country for Journalists

In Russia, media censorship is taking place in the form of secret police intimidation and increasingly, the beatings and murders of those who dare to report on government wrongdoings.

Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, the former Editor on Chief of the Russian newspaper Koruptsiya i Kriminal, died yesterday after two months in a coma incurred from being beaten in front of his home. The authorities have refused to investigate the death, claiming first that Yaroshenko was in a street fight and then changing their story to later say he fell off a ladder.

The newspaper’s name translates to Corruption and Crime and indeed Yaroshenko’s paper dedicated itself to exposing government corruption and criminality among the Russian police.

“I don’t have even the smallest doubt,” said former colleague Sergey Sleptsov, about the possibility of government involvement in the death. “Our newspaper was published on eight pages; seven of them were allotted to corruption in the law enforcement structures.” The paper intends to hold its own investigation into the death.

“There is an urgent need for an impartial investigation into all the circumstances of Yaroshenko’s death,” says Reporters Without Borders. “The Russian authorities cannot keep covering up crimes of violence against journalists by pretending they were accidents and leaving those responsible at large, completely unpunished.”

Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists and the ninth worst in solving reporters’ killings, according to CPJ.

His death comes just five days after a retrial was ordered in the killing of another Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was a vocal Kremlin critic and in her case, the four men accused of killing her were originally acquitted and so far no investigation has been made into who ordered her killing.

Seventeen journalists have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances since 2000 according to CPJ.

Somalia Deadliest African Country For Journalists

Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe became the fifth journalist to be murdered in Somalia this year, confirming Somalia as the deadliest African country for journalists.  Hirabe, the director of Radio Shabelle, was gunned down in the streets of Mogadishu by three unknown gunmen while walking to work with his colleague Ahmed Omar Hashi.  Hashi was shot in the hand and stomach but survived.  He is currently seeking ways to leave Somalia, fearing for his life if he remains.

Hirabe’s murder, the fifth of the year and the fourteenth since 2007, drew calls from many non-profit organizations to guaranty the safety of journalists covering Somalia’s ongoing conflict.  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “expressed anger and dismay” at the murder while urging the Somali president to “come to grips with the scale of this catastrophe and do his utmost to ensure the safety of journalists.”   The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also issued a statement calling “on all those who are fighting in this conflict to stop targeting journalists and instead do their utmost to protect them.”  The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) stated that they were “shocked” by the attack. 

Hirabe is the third journalist from Radio Shabelle to be murdered this year.  His murder comes just over four months after the killing of Radio HornAfrik director Said Tahlil and a year to the day after the murder of NUSOJ vice-president Nasteh Daher Farah.  Hirabe, like Tahlil, was murdered in the Bakara Market, a section controlled by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia.  Hirabe had survived one murder attempt, on the same day Tahlil was murdered.  Hashi escaped on that day as well.

While Somalia’s lawlessness riveted the Western media in early 2009 after Somali pirates captured an American vessel and several other Western ships, little attention has been paid to the ongoing conflict between various warring factions and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has increasingly used journalists as pawns.  The CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes,  stated that “as the conflict in Somalia intensifies, journalists are increasingly targeted at unprecedented levels by insurgent groups. [T]he international community must hold those who commit violence against journalists to account.”  Some believe that Hirabe’s murder and the attempt on Hashi’s life were retaliation for false stories claiming that Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys had been killed or injured.  However, there is also  speculation by Hirabe and Hashi’s colleagues that the attack was carried out by insurgents trying to control the Somali airwaves.

Whatever the reason, the alarmingly increasing trend in recent years of murdering, capturing, or otherwise harming journalists to make a political statement must come to an end.  A free and fair press which can operate without fear is beneficial to all and guaranties that all sides will be heard.