Islamist groups have been responsible for murdering a large number of journalists over the past decade without their killers being brought to justice.
Those murders feature prominently in the latest edition of the global impunity index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go unpunished.
For the second year in succession, the worst country is Somalia, where Al-Shabaab is suspected of committing the majority of media murders. It is followed by Iraq and Syria, where members of Isis murdered at least six journalists over the past year.
Similarly, extremist groups have also repeatedly targeted journalists with impunity in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan. They appear on the index for at least the second consecutive year.
At the same time, violence perpetrated against journalists by criminal groups and local officials allowed impunity to tighten its grip in Latin America, with Brazil and Mexico each moving two spots higher on the index this year.
The index, published annually to mark the International day to end impunity for crimes against journalists on 2 November, calculates the number of unsolved murders over a 10-year period as a percentage of each country’s population.
For the current edition, CPJ analysed journalist murders that took place between 1 September 2006 and 31 August, 2016. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases for this period are included on the index — a threshold that 13 countries met this year, compared with 14 last year.
In rank order (with the numbers of unsolved murders in brackets) they are: 1.Somalia (24); 2. Iraq (71); 3. Syria (17); 4. Philippines (41); 5. South Sudan (5); 6.Mexico (21); 7. Afghanistan (5); 8. Pakistan (21); 9. Brazil (15); 10. Russia (9); 11.Bangladesh (7); 12. Nigeria (5); 13. India (13).
Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained (cases in which some, but not all, perpetrators are held to justice are classified as partial impunity and are not included in the tally).
While militant extremists are responsible for the greatest numbers of attacks against journalists in recent years, they are not the only ones getting away with murder, nor are conflict zones the only place where impunity thrives.
For example, the Philippines is placed fourth in the index because of the failure to prosecute any of the perpetrators behind the 2009 massacre in Maguindanao, in which 32 journalists and media workers were killed.
In Mexico and Brazil, criminal groups and government officials are also leading suspects in murders of journalists in Russia and India. Each of those countries except Brazil has appeared on the index since its inception.
Sri Lanka, where violence against journalists has receded since the end of a decades-long civil war, dropped off the list for the first time since CPJ began calculating the index in 2008.
CPJ recorded only four unsolved murders in Sri Lanka for the latest 10-year period, leading to its elimination from the index. Amid the country’s becalmed political climate, no journalist there has been murdered in direct connection to journalism since editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was killed in 2009.
Justice has not been achieved in any murder despite a pledge from the president, Maithripala Sirisena, to reinvestigate old killings. But Wickramatunga’s case did inch forward this year with one arrest and the exhumation of the editor’s body for a new post-mortem.
Impunity is widely recognised as one of the greatest threats to press freedom, and international pressure to address it has mounted in recent years, with states, in- cluding some of the repeat offenders on this list, beginning to respond.
Six countries on the index — Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Somalia — convicted perpetrators of journalist killings in the past year, up from three countries in the previous year’s report.
In another positive development, more countries on this year’s index participated in Unesco’s impunity accountability mechanism, which requests information on the status of investigations into killed journalists.
In previous years, half of the countries on the index ignored this process. This year, only three states among the 13 index countries — India, South Sudan and Syria —failed to respond.
Other findings that emerged from the index:
• Eight of the countries have been listed each year since CPJ began the annual analysis in 2008, an indication of how entrenched impunity is in some nations.
• Despite their poor records in achieving justice, four countries on the Impunity Index — India, Mexico, Nigeria, and the Philippines — are on the governing council of the Community of Democracies, a coalition dedicated to upholding and strengthening democratic norms.
• Political groups, including Isis and other extremist organisations, are the suspected perpetrators in more than 40% of all murder cases. Government and military officials are the leading suspects in nearly a quarter of the cases.
• In at least 40% of cases, the victims reported receiving threats before they were killed. Threats are rarely investigated by authorities and in only a handful of cases is adequate protection provided.
• In the past 10 years, around 30% of murdered journalists were first taken captive, the majority of whom were tortured, amplifying the killers’ message of intimidation to the media community.