The statistics over the past ten years do not lie: violence against journalists is on the rise. The cases are piling up, whether they concern threats and verbal abuse, physical violence, or legal cases, aimed to silence journalists. In several countries a growing number of journalists need armed protection to keep themselves alive; and most importantly, the number of journalists being killed for their profession has risen to more than once a week.
As directors of organisations who care about journalists, we – Leon Willems of Free Press Unlimited, Joel Simons of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Christophe Deloire of Reporters without Borders – have all had our share of heart-breaking meetings with the women and men in the field who, in spite of all the danger, persist in being part of this dangerous and important profession called journalism. We rally around to bring these people to the world’s attention.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to save people’s lives, but more often we are too late. For example last June, when we encountered Edith Caduaya of the Mindanao Independent Press Council who had just learned that her colleague and friend Dennis Denora had been killed in the Philippines. The horrific message reached her at an international conference, minutes before she was about to raise attention to the threats against him and other Philippine journalists by the government.
As Press Freedom activists and staunch supporters of the freedom of expression, we are convinced that controversy and debate in society should be resolved by peaceful means. We have come together several times over the past few years, wondering how we can stem the stream of negative news. We have worked together tirelessly on efforts to prevent violence, train journalists to be more resilient and avoid the risks as far as possible, and we have helped people in distress. Over the past five years, our organisations supported some 1,250 journalists with medical aid and budget to replace their broken equipment, provided them with legal aid and put people out of harm’s way by providing safe havens and ardent advocacy. But in spite of many successes in these fields, we feel it has been insufficient to break the cycle of impunity for crimes against journalists. It is our conviction that impunity will only end when countries start engaging in their legal obligations to protect journalists by prosecuting the violence against them and putting the killers and those that masterminded the attacks behind bars.
This is why we are more than happy that the Dutch Postcode Lottery decided to support our new project ‘A Safe World for the Truth’ with €3.5 million. With this project, we aim to create an innovative route to bring about justice to cases which have not been investigated, prosecuted and/or followed up by authorities. With the project, we intend to strengthen the international legal framework to counter violence against journalists.
A broad spectrum of collaborators including forensic experts, jurists, local Free Press Unlimited partners and drawing upon CPJ and RSF databases, ‘A Safe World for the Truth’ will start by investigating ten current conspicuous cases of violence against journalists. Where necessary additional investigation power will be utilized, such as Bellingcat (among others) to crowdsource data, additional (local) experts, investigative journalists, data specialists and forensic experts. Following the findings, the team will confront national authorities with the maps of facts and case files they produce.
In five of these cases, a team of investigative journalists will then examine any detecting that has been done, where it stagnated and why the perpetrators and/or those who commissioned them, have not been prosecuted. The entire process will be covered and published in documentaries and on social media. We anticipate the first case to be brought before a People’s Tribunal for Crimes Against Journalists at the end of 2020.
In our view, public pressure, extensive publicity and a large dedicated community involved, will lead to more vigorous action by authorities responsible for judicial processes. By extensive (social) media coverage we hope to gather this international community interested in justice for journalists. Because as a society, we need those who are dedicated to reporting the truth. We need them alive and we need them safe, to keep our hopes alive to unmask the corrupt, secretive and colluding powers who are wrecking this planet’s hope for a peaceful, inclusive and free global society for all citizens to live in.