By BenarNews staff on Oct 28, 2021
Citing unsolved murders of media workers, a leading international press advocacy group on Thursday kept Bangladesh and the Philippines on its list of the dozen most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
The annual Global Impunity Index, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, ranks the Philippines as the seventh-worst and Bangladesh as the 11th-worst nation based on data from Sept. 1, 2011, to Aug. 30. While the Philippines held its spot, Bangladesh improved from 10th-worst based on convictions in February tied to the 2015 murders of secular blogger Avijit Roy and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, CPJ reported.
The Philippines has 13 unsolved murders of journalists and Bangladesh has six, according to CPJ. The index includes only nations which have at least five unsolved cases.
“CPJ defines murder as a deliberate killing of a specific journalist in retaliation for the victim’s work. This index does not include cases of journalists killed in combat or while on dangerous assignments, such as coverage of protests that turn violent,” it said.
A CPJ official called on government authorities to bring the killers to trial.
“When justice is subject to corruption and political power feuds, these forces silence journalists and the critical stories they tell,” Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director, said in a news release announcing the index. “It is imperative that authorities fully investigate these crimes and stop censorship by murder. This task cannot be left to the families, colleagues, and civil society groups tirelessly seeking justice.”
The CPJ noted two court actions in Bangladesh earlier this year.
A Dhaka court on Feb. 16 sentenced five militants to death for Bangladeshi-American blogger Roy’s murder six years earlier, as he was leaving an annual book fair. The rulings came about a week after the same judge, Mojibur Rahman, sentenced eight to death for the October 2015 murder of Dipan, who had published Roy’s works.
“It was a premeditated murder. The banned outfit Ansar al-Islam’s members, including the accused persons, killed Avijit Roy, and branded him an atheist,” Rahman said in a statement at the time, referring to an al-Qaeda linked group.
“Avijit Roy paid the price with his life for independent writing and freedom of expression. These accused persons do not deserve mercy.”
While crediting Bangladesh for the verdicts, the committee questioned the death sentences. CPJ said it does not support the death penalty and has “urged Bangladesh to hand down ‘humane’ sentences on appeal.”
The Philippines, meanwhile, held the seventh spot for a second year after improving from the fifth-worst nation in 2019.
In 2020, CPJ said the Philippines remained on the list despite the December 2019 convictions of perpetrators linked to the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 32 journalists and media workers were among 58 people killed in the biggest single-day attack on the working press.
On Nov. 23, 2009, the Ampatuan political clan, backed by their privately controlled armed militiamen and police, ambushed a group of supporters of rival politician Esmael Mangudadatu, who had challenged the Ampatuan patriarch for the post of governor in the province of Maguindanao.
Zaldy Ampatuan, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his brother, Andal Ampatuan Jr. who engineered the massacre, were sentenced to life in prison. Their father and clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., died in jail before the trial concluded.
“The battle for complete justice, journalists, advocates and the families of victims say, is not over,” CPJ said in the 2020 report.
“Far from it: All of the convicted Ampatuan clan members, including the crime’s reputed masterminds Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, have appealed their convictions. Those legal challenges, local observers predict, could take years to be heard and eventually reach the Supreme Court, if the defendants exercise all of their appeal options.”
More recently, commentator Reynante Cortes was killed in July after he left a radio station in Mambaling, a village in Cebu city, when a gunman approached and shot him at close range, according to a local official. Cortes was the 22nd media worker to be killed in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016.
Globally, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and South Sudan were the worst nations for journalists this year as well as in 2020.
In addition, CPJ said Afghanistan remained the fifth-worst nation while noting the situation on the ground for reporters “deteriorated dramatically in 2021 as the Taliban took control in mid-August amid the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces and the flight of President Ashraf Ghani.”