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"Tragedy Unlimited" Says IFJ as Killings of Journalists in 2007 Maintain Record Levels

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Serge Maheshe, murdered broadcaster for Radio Okapi

It's New Year's Eve and a press release summed up the frustration, outrage and general despair of a very bad year for this writer, providing a "year's end list" to put an end to all lists. Here's hoping that this record gets the attention it deserves when our desks are jammed with lists of "most admired politicians," "best CD releases," and "favorite celebrities." The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today said that violence against journalists in 2007 has reached extreme levels for the third year in succession with 171 confirmed deaths, just below the record set a year ago. In 2006 the IFJ confirmed 177 journalists and other media workers killed. At the year's end 2007 proved only slightly less deadly -- with 171 deaths. The figures have been compiled in co-operation with the International News Safety Institute. "Violence against journalists remains at extremely high levels for the third year in a row," said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. "The scale of attacks on journalists marks a continuing crisis filled with unlimited human tragedy and relentless attacks on press freedom."

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Boumela's remarks reminded me of the murder of Radio Okapi journalist Serge Maheshe in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June. OpEd News was the only American news outlet that published the slain journalist's photo. Meanwhile the mainstream press did very little to publicize the plundering and rape of the Congolese people, and focused instead on a few gorillas.

I am thinking, also, of colleagues in exile from countries we cannot mention because we plan to travel there and continue our own work. To even mention the countries involved, associations with persons there, the absolute lies perpetrated by the American government regarding "press freedom" in those countries, would put our work in serious jeopardy, not to mention the families of colleagues. We receive emails on a regular basis which detail extortion, death threats and worse that are directed at colleagues overseas. I worry every time I go through a passport checkpoint that I will be pulled out of the line.

We turn the threats against colleagues over to government contacts and investigators who so far have done nothing. An audit of USAID conservation funding which Congressman James Oberstar requested and was completed in March 2007 has been classified "proprietary."

Intimidation and fear is another way of killing the truth. For the time being, this writer has chosen the "safer" venue of New Orleans post Katrina.

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I personally am reminded of the "conservation worker" who is now freely roaming DRC and soliciting funds for "conservation" who was my hired bodyguard, stole my work, dumped me in the middle of Goma with no money and no phone, and had me detained by the Congolese secret police. "You are a hotshot journalist, figure your way out of this one," the bastard sneered. "You will never work in Congo again," he boasted. He threatens to sue me every chance he gets. I welcome a lawsuit and the total disclosure it would require from a host of US and UK "conservation organizations" who have blood on their hands. I plan to confront him again in Congo, only this time I will be ready.

The work the "conservationist" stole includes video footage of starving orphans in Mbingi, who are supposed to be receiving donated conservation dollars from the United States. I was told that "If this footage gets out, it will ruin conservation in the Virungas."

Mbingi Orphans

My News Years resolution: I will continue to fight for the ruination of conservation lies in the Virungas and the salvation of the Congolese people to the best of my ability.

I remember the Congolese police, especially one "Jean-Baptiste," my interrogator, who said some money would make his "job easier." I didn't pay.

What I experienced is nothing compared to what other journalists who are in-country experience constantly. So many have paid for freedom of expression with their lives; so many are in exile because they told the truth.

The IFJ includes all journalists killed because of their work, including targeted murders, and deaths while covering violent events. It also counts deaths where journalists are killed in accidents while on assignment or on their way to or from a story.

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Conflicts in Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia have proved the most dangerous for journalists in a year that has confirmed the high rates of killings in recent years and "tragedy unlimited" for thousands within the global media community. Boumelha called for more action from the international community to counter impunity and to eliminate fear and danger from the profession of journalism. "Our colleagues have been targeted because of their work, or killed covering dangerous stories often in the rush to cover breaking news," he said. In Africa violent attacks on journalists have continued and the brutal repression of free expression in Eritrea has led to two deaths there this year. There are reports from Africa that have not yet reached the desks of the IFJ because those who know what is happening in countries propped up by the United States cannot come forward. "As usual those most at risk are media staff operating in their home country," said Boumelha. "Violence against media is particularly evident in countries where the political situation is unstable. It is no coincidence that countries like Somalia and Pakistan are two of the most dangerous this year." In Iraq, which has been the deadliest country for journalists since the US invasion in 2003, at least 65 journalists and media staff have been killed this year. Of those killed, it is believed that all but one was an Iraqi national. The IFJ's study makes it clear that local journalists are the most vulnerable to attack. In the vast majority of the cases this year, the media workers targeted were working for national or regional media and were killed in their own communities. It also highlights the problem of impunity that continues to plague the media sector. Many of this year's crimes are unsolved and will remain so. IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, who this week joined a fresh appeal for action over impunity arising out of the United Nations Security Council resolution issued a year ago calling on all governments to confront the crisis of violence against media, said, "Many killers of journalists are just getting away with murder. Governments must take these issues seriously. Every case must be investigated. Those responsible must be punished." The IFJ recorded the following information for deaths of media workers in 2007: • Murders and violent deaths 134 • Deaths in accidents 37 • The deadliest region was the Middle East with 68 killed • Deadliest Countries (for killings) were Iraq (65), Somalia (8) and Pakistan (7) • Other hotspots were Mexico (6), Sri Lanka (6) and Philippines (5)


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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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