Journalists around the world often risk their lives to bring into focus issues of import, often pitting against power and politics. The stories of journalists taking risks mostly remain hidden from the public eye. Hence, when "unwanted information" is brought to light, journalists are always at the risk of facing dangerous consequences as was the case with Sagar-Runi, the Bangladeshi journalist couple, Khashoggi, the Saudi who fell out of favour with the authority, Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta, who was 'crusading against untransparency and corruption' in her country, and Pavel Sheremet of Belarus while covering political oppression. The list is unending.
"The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists" is an UN-recognised day observed annually on November 2. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.
Journalists raising their voices against the toxic influence of politics and corruption, which pervades every spheres, has led to many odious consequences, including deaths.
Yet the stories of killing and maiming rarely come to the surface. It can be said that murdering journalists has become normalised. Moreover, since the twin conduit of power and politics also exert its influence and help normalise the regulations and regular filtration of news.
Thus, people in power develop a habit of taking control of what is being served as news, thereby overpowering both people who produce the news and readers who consume them, effectuating the perspectives of the latter. The people at the helm thus decide what to read and also efficaciously scrape off what they feel readers should not read.
A special CPJ (The Committee to Protect Journalists) report by Elana Beiser says that 53 journalists were killed in 2018 – the highest in the last three years.
The "culture of impunity" saves murderers, harassers, corrupts, and power abusers from being punished which encourages perpetrators to repeat their crimes.
According to Geneva International Centre for Justice, from 2006 to 2017, about 1010 journalists have been killed and many of the cases are linked to war and political unrest that have rocked their respective countries.
CPJ reports have also revealed that in 2015, Bangladesh was among the top 10 deadliest countries for journalists in the world. According to UNESCO, from 1993 to October 2019, 1360 journalists were killed worldwide. Research also says that in 90 per cent of the cases the perpetrators remain incognito.
It has been seven years since the journalist couple Sagar-Runi were murdered and there is still no visible progress in the case.
Journalists are no less than warriors because they are always at the forefront, risking their lives, to bring information to the masses. Whenever there is an important event, political or social, journalists are the ones who take the brunt in order to keep the public informed.
Last year, during the student movement for safer roads in Bangladesh, journalists were harassed while on duty. Journalist Ahmed Deepto along with four others was attacked while covering the event in the Science Laboratory area on August 5, 2018.
At that same time, AP photographer AM Ahad was also beaten mercilessly during the movement in the same area. Offenders also broke his cell phone and camera. Deepto, Ahad and many other journalists sustained injuries and were taken to emergency units in different hospitals.
Shahidul Alam, renowned photographer and activist, was documenting the movement. He was arrested in August 2018 for disseminating misinformation, as per the official line of argument. Shahidul was freed after 100 days and according to his statement he was tortured following his arrest.
Last year, Ján Kuciak was investigating alleged links to organised crime and political corruption in his country Slovakia when he was shot dead along with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. With public and European Union's pressure, the investigation took place and a businessman named Marián Kocner was charged with the couple's murder.
The failure to call out the issue of impunity of perpetrators is one of the main reasons why such cases remain unresolved. Lack of justice and transparency only exacerbate the situation.
Such incidents of lost justice work as threats against journalist communities around the world. Those who are working with courage and bringing facts to the light become disinclined to continue with their laudable acts.
Unless authorities everywhere assure press freedom, journalists will have to continue working under threats, which ultimately harms intellectual and social development of nations.
Working in a safe environment is the fundamental right for every journalist and, because freedom of expression and democracy go hand in hand, this existing cycle of impunity has to end.