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RIGHTS: Press Freedom at a Price

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 1998 (IPS) - A total of 26 journalists were murdered worldwide in 1997, either while carrying out their duties or as a reprisal for their work, according to two watchdog groups.

The biggest toll took place in India, where seven journalists were killed, says a report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) in Paris.

Four journalists were slain in Colombia, three in Mexico, and two more in Cambodia, according to the joint statement. In addition, one reporter was murdered in each of ten other countries last year – Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Ukraine.

Only three of those allegedly involved in these killings have been prosecuted, and the two groups called on all concerned governments to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible for the deaths of the journalists.

“Tragically, homicide remains the leading cause of job-related death for journalists around the world, and the motive is censorship,” the two groups said in a joint statement. “If governments allow these crimes to go unpunished, constitutional guarantees of press freedom are meaningless.”

No Algerian journalists were murdered during 1997, the first time in four years they have escaped violent death. Since 1993, almost 60 Algerian journalists have been killed in the bloody conflict between the government and Islamic militants which has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.

The absence of death last year, however, did not mean press freedom was flourishing in Algeria, said Robert Menard, RSF’s director. “There are fewer victims because so many Algerian journalists have gone underground, fled into exile, or left the profession entirely, while those who remain on the job live and work under the most extreme security precautions.”

For the second straight year, no deaths were reported among journalists operating in former Yugoslavia – after the death of some 50 reporters in the 10 years between 1985 and the signing of the Dayton peace accords in 1995.

But in Ukraine, Borys Derevyanko, editor-in-chief of ‘Vechernyaya Odessa,’ was shot last August near his offices in what authorities called a “contract killing.” His newspaper was a prominent critic of the maor of Odessa.

The two watchdog groups said that the seven documented killings in India last year reflect a trend of growing political violence and risk for local reporters and photographers. Five of the victims were killed when their vehicle was destroyed by a terrorist car-bomb blast in Hyderabad. All five were members of a television production crew.

In addition, two Kashmiri journalists – Altaf Ahmed Faktoo and Saidan Shafi – were murdered in apparent reprisal for their work with the government television network. Eight journalists have been assassinated in the territory, which is also claimed by Pakistan, since armed conflict broke out in 1990.

In Colombia, the four deaths in 1997 brought to 43 the number of journalists murdered in the past decade. Most of the victims have been killed by drug-trafficking interests, according to the report.

This year, the watchdog organisations singled out Gerardo Bedoya Borrero of El Pais and Jairo Elias Marquez Gallego as reporters who likely were killed as a result of their work in exposing drug trafficking and corruption. Freddy Elles Ahumada, a free-lance photo-journalist from Cartagena, was believed to have been assassinated for his coverage of police violence and Francisco Castro Menco, president of a community broadcast radio foundation in Majagual, may have been killed by either guerrillas or paramilitary forces in the conflict-ridden region.

In Mexico, Jesus Abel Bueno Leon of the regional weekly ‘7 Dias’ and Victor Hernandez Martinez of the magazine ‘Como,’ were assassinated probably for their efforts to expose police corruption and government abuses, while Benjamin Flores Gonzalez of ‘La Prensa’ in Sonoro State may have sealed his doom by his aggressive coverage of the local drug trade.

In Argentina, Jose Luis Cabezas of the news magazine ‘Noticias,’ was abducted and murdered outside Pinamar apparently while working on a story about Alfredo Yabran, a well-known tycoon with ties to the then-Justice Minister. The murder resulted in the latter’s resignation and the arrest of several current and former police officers, as well as Yabran’s security chief.

In Brazil, Edgar Lopes de Faria of FM Capital in Campo Grande, was shot down in October by people believed to be hired assassins. In Guatemala, Jorge Luis Marroquin Sagastume, director of ‘Sol Chorti,’ a monthly in Jocotan, was killed by two assassins reportedly hired by a local official and political rival.

In Cambodia, Chet Duong Daravuth, a reporter for ‘Neak Prayuth’ was killed in a grenade attack while attending a political rally last March, while Michael Senior, a Canadian who had worked for the ‘Cambodia Daily’ was executed after photographing looting by soldiers last July after the coup d’etat by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Elsewhere in Asia, Muhammad Sayuti Bochari, a reporter with the Indonesian newspaper ‘Pos Makasar,’ was beaten to death, apparently after writing articles on corruption by local officials in Ujungpandang.

In Pakistan, Z.A. Shaid, a photographer with ‘Khabrain’ in Lahore, was killed in a bomb blast which apparently was targeted against several leaders of an anti-Shiite party. In the Philippines, Danny Hernandez, news editor of ‘People’s Journal tonight,’ who exposed drug syndicates and police corruption received death threats and ultimately was shot and killed oustide his offices last June.

In Iran, Ebrahim Zalzadeh, publisher of the Teheran monthly, ‘Mayar’, was discovered with multiple stab wounds 35 days after he disappeared. Until its closure in 1995, ‘Mayar’ was a frequent critic of government censorship.

On the African cointinent, Appolos Hakizimana, editor-in-chief of the Rwandan independent ‘Umuravumba,’ was shot to death on his way home in Kigali. He had been arrested in 1996 for alleged involvement in the 1994 genocide against Tutsis.

In Sierra Leone, Ishmael Jalloh, a free-lance reporter for several indepndent newspapers, was killed while covering a June 3 battle between armed factions and Nigerian soldiers of the ECOMOG force stationed there.

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