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Blog: Five years on, no resolution to Alisher Saipov’s murder

24 Oct

Alisher Saipov (Ferghana News)

Five years ago today, press freedom in Kyrgyzstan received a deadly blow from which it has never recovered. Alisher Saipov, one of most promising and prominent regional reporters of his time, was murdered in his native city of Osh. Since that October night, authorities have promised to solve his killing, but impunity reigns to this day, Shohruh Saipov, his brother and also a journalist, told CPJ.

At the time of his murder, Saipov edited his own independent newspaper, Siyosat (Politics), but his resume was impressive for a 26-year-old reporter. In his short career, Saipov contributed to the BBC World Service, the U.S. government-funded outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Moscow-based regional news website Ferghana News.

All of these outlets capitalized on Saipov’s knowledge of the region, but his focus on human rights abuses brought him the most attention. An ethnic Uzbek, he refused to be a silent bystander to the grave human rights abuses in neighboring Uzbekistan, and fiercely criticized ongoing repression there. Published in Osh, Saipov’s Siyosat was slipped across the Uzbek border and distributed by hand in that tightly controlled country, his colleagues told CPJ.

But Saipov’s reporting also led to the brutal end to his life and career, the journalist’s family and colleagues told CPJ.

On October 24, 2007, around 7 p.m. , an unidentified man shot Saipov three times–first in his leg to immobilize him, then in the head, execution-style–as the editor was about to catch a taxi outside his newsroom. The killer used a gun fitted with a silencer.

Once the news spread outside Osh, authorities pledged to solve the murder. They had at least two aces in hand–Saipov’s critical journalism as the most credible motive, and a witness who could identify the killer. A local political expert, Ikbol Mirsaitov, was with the editor that evening and witnessed the murder. Authorities also seemed to have a will to solve the case.

Five years after the slaying, however, Saipov’s family–including daughter Zulaiho, born just weeks before her father was murdered–are still waiting for the Kyrgyz leadership to provide justice. Avaz Saipov, the journalist’s father, has long accused authorities of botching the investigation, and for good reason.

Investigators initially announced that Saipov’s journalism was a primary motive, and that they would probe accusations that Uzbek authorities were involved in the murder. A smear campaign against Saipov in the state-controlled Uzbek media preceded his slaying, and he reported receiving threats in connection to his critical reporting on Uzbekistan.

But no progress was reported. Instead, investigators changed their lead several times, pointing at the banned Islamic group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir–which Saipov covered–as among the potential executioners, and keeping the family in the dark about their work. Eventually, they shelved the case. Mirsaitov remained suspiciously silent, refusing to talk to Saipov’s family or journalists about the murder he witnessed. He has never visited the slain journalist’s family, Shohruh Saipov told CPJ.

In April 2009, authorities announced they had caught a killer, a local man named Abdufarit Rasulov, in whose car police allegedly found drugs and the gun used in Saipov’s murder. In court, Rasulov insisted that he did not know Saipov, had no reason to kill him, and that police planted both the gun and the drugs. A local court dismissed the evidence as insubstantial. But he was imprisoned nonetheless, after prosecutors–long interested in closing the case–successfully disputed the lower court’s ruling in the Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, however, the same Supreme Court ruled that the case should be sent back for a review. Avaz Saipov, who carried out his own investigation and told CPJ that Rasulov was innocent, presented the court with exculpatory evidence of the alleged gunman’s involvement: video footage of Rasulov at a wedding on October 24, 2007, some 400 kilometers away from the murder scene.

The court ruling was announced in April, but as happened many times before, progress has stalled, Shohruh Saipov said. Authorities continue to keep the family in the dark, only informing them of the developments after repeated inquiries. Saipov’s latest information is that despite the ruling, Rasulov remains in jail, and no one has been assigned to review the case. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Bahrain acquits officer on charges of torturing a journalist

24 Oct

New York, October 24, 2012–CPJ is alarmed by a Bahraini court’s acquittal of a police officer accused of torturing a journalist in custody in 2011.

A criminal court in Manama on Monday acquitted police officer Sara al-Moussa on charges of torturing Nazeeha Saeed, a reporter for France24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, while the journalist was in custody in May 2011, according to the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA). The agency reported that the court ruled that Saeed’s testimony was full of “contradictions” and not “consistent.” Saeed told CPJ that she and her lawyer are urging prosecutors to reopen the case.

Police arrested Saeed while she was covering anti-government protests in the capital on May 22, 2011, according to news reports. Saeed told CPJ that during her 13-hour detention, al-Moussa and the other officers blindfolded her, beat her repeatedly with a hose, pulled her hair, slapped her in the face, dunked her head in a toilet, kicked her, and forced her to sign papers she was not allowed to read. The journalist, who was later examined by a doctor, submitted several medical reports to the court proving she had sustained bruises from the incident, she said.

Saeed told CPJ that the government had not taken any serious steps to investigate the case for several months. In January 2012, she filed her own complaint against al-Moussa, two other female police officers, and two male officers on torture accusations, news reports said. The court only tried al-Moussa, according to news reports. The officer’s trial began on June 6 and the verdict was reached on Monday, after five months of legal back-and-forth, the reports said. No action has been taken against the other four police members, news reports said.

Last year, Saeed was a witness in the trial of two police officers who were charged with killing two protesters, news reports said. The officers were acquitted in September, the reports said.

“Bahrain’s failure over the past 20 months to fully investigate attacks against journalists covering protests and prosecute those responsible calls into question the verdict of this court,” said CPJ Deputy Director Rob Mahoney. “Prosecutors should not let this case rest. Nazeeha Saeed deserves justice.”

CPJ research shows that since February 2011, independent and opposition journalists in Bahrain have endured the worst conditions since King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa assumed the throne in 1999. CPJ has documented three journalist deaths, including a shooting death in April; dozens of detentions; arbitrary deportations; government-sponsored billboards and advertisements smearing journalists; and numerous physical assaults. In April, authorities denied CPJ and several other press freedom and free expression groups visas to enter Bahrain.

  • For more data and analysis on Bahrain, visit CPJ’s Bahrain page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Remembering South African photojournalist Alf Kumalo

24 Oct

Alf Kumalo being arrested at a boxing match in Johannesburg in May 1976. (Alf Kumalo Foundation and Photographic Museum)

Photojournalist Alf Kumalo, whose career chronicled the inception, injustice, and demise of apartheid in South Africa, passed away on Sunday in a Johannesburg hospital at the age of 82.

There was hardly an event in the history of modern South Africa that was not viewed through the lens of “Bra Alf.” His career spanned Nelson Mandela’s trials in 1956 and 1963, the 1976 student uprising, Steve Biko and the rise of the Black Consciousness movement, and the end of apartheid and dawn of democracy in 1994.

Kumalo was a self-taught documentary photographer who started his career in 1951, freelancing for Bantu World. In 1956, he became a staff photographer at the Golden City Post. He was also a member of the legendary “Drum Generation,” reporters for Drum magazine in the 1950s and 60s whose talent and cosmopolitanism were a stark contrast to the brutality and segregation of apartheid. While assigned to cover court cases, Kumalo met a young lawyer named Nelson Mandela and developed a long and close friendship with him. As a black photographer during apartheid, Kumalo not only chronicled oppression but also had to contend with becoming a victim of it. He risked his personal safety and freedom in his efforts as a photographer.

Kumalo’s passing brought rival politicians and journalists together in shared mourning for the man with a habit of forming lifelong friendships. “He was a meticulous photographer and his work will live on forever as a monument to the people’s resilience and fortitude in the face of oppression and apartheid. We have lost a great South African,” said President Jacob Zuma.

“No one could contradict the truth of what he captured so competently through the lens,” said former President Thabo Mbeki. “Aware that the power of his narrative was unimpeachable, the apartheid regime subjected him to constant harassment in the hope that Kumalo, a humble and tenacious man of integrity, would abandon his work or sell his soul altogether. He did not.”

Peter Magubane, a longtime friend and fellow Drum photographer, told the Sowetan newspaper that Kumalo was not only himself accomplished, but helped other photographers on their way up. “He was a wonderful photographer and always ready to help. Many photographers passed through his hands,” Magubane said.

After 1994, Kumalo founded a photography school and published a book collecting his life’s work, Alf Kumalo: Through My Lens. Though he was already in advanced age from the late 90s, Kumalo was still seen on the occasional story, working in his trademark Panama hat and with a camera around his neck.

Kumalo was the second well-known journalist to pass away this month. Founding editor of the New Nation, an anti-apartheid magazine, Zwelakhe Sisulu died on October 4. Sisulu was a Nieman journalism fellow at Harvard in 1984 and became the chief executive of the SABC-South Africa’s public broadcaster-in 1994.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

In first for Somaliland, gunmen kill journalist

24 Oct

TV journalist Ahmed Farah Ilyas was killed in Somaliland on Tuesday. (Somalilandpress)

Nairobi, October 24, 2012–Unidentified gunmen killed a journalist in the Somaliland town of Las Anod on Tuesday, the first work-related fatality CPJ has documented in the semi-autonomous republic.

Ahmed Farah Ilyas, a correspondent for the private, London-based Universal TV, was killed while walking home from work at around 9 p.m., according to local journalists and news reports. The gunmen fled the scene before the Somaliland police arrived, news reports said.

Dahir Adan, a local police official, told Agence France-Presse that police were investigating the murder, but had not yet confirmed a motive. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Ahmed, 25, had worked as a journalist for more than eight years and was the Las Anod representative of the Somaliland Journalists Association, a local press freedom group. Hours before his death, he had reported on a bomb blast that authorities blamed on Islamic insurgents, according to local journalists and news reports.

Police had briefly detained Ahmed, along with two other journalists, on October 12 in connection with their coverage of Las Anod residents expressing their support for the new Somali prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, according to local reports.

“It’s a sad day when journalists are targeted in Somaliland, a region that has been relatively secure amid a country riddled with violence,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on Somaliland authorities to ensure this trend does not continue and urge Las Anod authorities to determine the motive in this murder and do their utmost to find the perpetrators.”

The restive town of Las Anod straddles the border between Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, where skirmishes between forces loyal to both regions occasionally occur, according to local journalists. Local journalists said Somaliland authorities often consider the private press in Las Anod to support the opposition to the Somaliland government. CPJ has recorded 12 cases of authorities arbitrarily detaining journalists in Las Anod this year, including three Universal TV journalists on separate occasions.

At least 10 other journalists have been killed in Somalia so far in 2012, according to CPJ research. This is one of the worst years for the press in the country. CPJ ranks Somalia as the deadliest country for the press in Africa and the second deadliest in the world.

  • For more data and analysis on Somalia, visit CPJ’s Somalia page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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