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Gambian journalist threatened after writing on executions

16 Nov

Lagos, Nigeria, November 16, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists today said it holds authorities in the Gambia responsible for the safety of a journalist who has received death threats following critical coverage of the government. 

Abubacarr Saidykhan, a freelancer who contributes to several news websites, told CPJ that four unknown people on Tuesday threatened him at his Ebo Town residence in Kanifing Municipality, some seven miles (11 kilometers) from the capital Banjul. Saidykhan said he was near his compound gate with his brother when the men drove up in an unmarked vehicle with tinted windows and threatened to kill him next time they see him. One of the men called him “a very stubborn journalist” before they drove off.

“I reported to the police who gave me a reference number. But I am not sleeping at my house anymore,” Saidykhan said. Yankuba Sonko, the Gambia’s inspector general of police, declined to comment on the threats when CPJ reached him by phone.

Local journalists said the threats could be linked to coverage of opposition to President Yahya Jammeh’s decision to execute death row inmates, about which Saidykhan has written a series of articles. They told CPJ the threats should not be taken lightly, referring to the case of eminent editor Deyda Hydara, who was killed in December 2004 after reporting death threats. No one has ever been prosecuted for his murder.

“The Gambian government must guarantee the safety of Abubacarr Saidykhan,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “The impunity afforded to the killers of Deyda Hydara has emboldened the enemies of the press in the Gambia.”

Tuesday’s threat came three weeks after Saidykhan and Baboucarr Ceesay, a regular contributor to Africa Review and the author of a story about opposition to the executions, received an anonymous death threat via email on October 25 that they forwarded to CPJ. The sender accused both men of wanting to “destroy the image of the APRC Government [ruling political party] and our affectionate President Yahya Jammeh.” It is not clear whether that threat was in relation to their journalism or to an attempt by Saidykhan and Ceesay in August to organize a demonstration against the executions.

In September, authorities expelled a BBC correspondent who had come to the Gambia to report on the executions. The same month, they shut down two newspapers who had reported on the controversy. CPJ research shows that in the Gambia, journalists critical of the government are frequently targets of threats or arrests from state security agents, ruling party  supporters, and the president himself,  who in a July 22, 2009, televised broadcast threatened to “severely deal” with them. Journalists and media houses have been attacked with impunity, according to CPJ research and news reports. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: In Karachi, a trail of death and impunity in Babar case

16 Nov

Murders of journalists such as Wali Khan Babar give Pakistani journalists plenty of reason to fear. (AP/Mohammad Sajjad)

Haider Ali, an eyewitness to the 2011 murder of Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar, was gunned down on Sunday, two days before he was set to testify in the trial of five suspects. The murder sent shockwaves across Pakistan–one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists and one of the worst in bringing the killers to justice. According to the prosecutor in the case, Ali had identified several suspects as being involved in Babar’s murder in a recent statement before a judicial magistrate. His killing was the latest in a series of murders that have targeted people linked to the Babar investigation. Five others–including eyewitnesses, police officers, an informant, and a family member of an investigator–have also been murdered.

In response, the Sindh High Court ordered that security be provided to lawyers and witnesses in the case. That security has not actually been deployed, however, according to local media reports. “The point is that the government doesn’t provide protection to witnesses, even in such important cases,” said Azhar Abbas, managing director of Geo TV. “Ali was moved to a different location within Karachi–a dangerous city as is. That simply is not enough. He was provided no security personnel.”

Last month, the Sindh High Court called for the trial to be concluded in 45 days. “The confessional statements [made by the accused] are quite strong and there will be pressure on the court for a conviction,” according a Karachi-based journalist who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity. But this most recent murder casts further doubt on whether justice will be served. Other witnesses have already backed down from testifying, the journalists said.

Convictions would send a message that Pakistani authorities are serious about prosecuting the killers of journalists. But there is much reason to believe that authorities will never get to the bottom of this case, never identify or prosecute the architects of Babar’s murder. The murders of witnesses and investigators “proves that there is an organized group or party involved in the murder of Wali Khan Babar. It seems that the government and law enforcement agencies are too scared to come forward and say who is behind these killings,” Abbas told CPJ.

Others argue that even if nominal justice is delivered, it comes too late for any real change. “A conviction will not change anything. Fear has already set in–particularly among young journalists,” the Karachi-based journalist told CPJ.

At least 40 journalists have been killed and dozens injured in Pakistan over the course of the last decade, according to CPJ research. The country is ranked 10th on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. The Pakistani government has shown little willingness to prosecute the killers of journalists.

The five defendants were apprehended by police a few months after Babar’s murder. A sixth suspect was killed in what was widely believed to be an extrajudicial killing by police. Another was arrested this week, but many others remain at large. Altogether more than 20 men were involved in the Babar murder, according to local media reports.

A high-level investigation by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) alleges that the hit on Babar was issued by Agha Murtaza, a member of the MQM–Pakistan’s third-largest party and considered its most influential secular political organization. The JIT accused Murtaza, who lives in South Africa, of telephoning an MQM operative named Faisal Mota to carry out the murder in Karachi, where the party is in hot competition for political power. Many journalists have questioned why Pakistani authorities have not contacted the South African government or sought to question Murtaza. Mota also remains at large.

The MQM is a well-organized party with a long record of killing political opponents. Many in Pakistan argue that a high profile murder could only have been initiated by someone in the upper echelons.

The MQM has denied accusations of ordering Babar’s murder. Still, prior to his death, Babar had told colleagues that members of the MQM were after him. Zulfiqar Mirza, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party who served as the Sindh Home Minister at the time of the killing, has also accused the MQM of orchestrating Babar’s death.

Babar, 29, an ethnic Pashtun, reported on the clashes between various political parties, extortion, drug dealing and land grabbing in the crime-ridden city of Karachi. In January 2011, at least two assailants intercepted the journalist’s car in Karachi’s Liaquatabad area, shooting him four times in the head and once in the neck.

The suspects in custody have been charged with murder with common intent and under Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act.  That means the hearing is taking place in one of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts, as it did in the case of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. By law, such proceedings should be wrapped up within seven working days. But such technicalities are usually overlooked in a country where courts are overburdened and judicial proceedings move at a seemingly glacial pace.

The high-profile killing of reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan is the only known journalist murder case in which some justice was carried out. A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity, however, reveals that there was only partial justice in the case. Only four of the 27 men allegedly involved in the kidnapping and murder were charged and convicted. 

There has not been a single conviction in any of the subsequent killings of Pakistani journalists. Babar’s case presents Pakistani authorities with an opportunity to improve their terrible record of impunity. But do they have any real desire to do so? Their past promises only go so far.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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