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South Asia the most dangerous part of the world for journalists, press freedom campaigners warn

INTERNATIONAL media organisations are marking World Press Freedom Day by demanding that governments act to end impunity for crimes against journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) issue a joint report today that raises concerns at the “alarming level of impunity” in South Asia, where 35 journalists have been killed in the past 12 months.

The two organisations called on world governments to endorse the IFJ proposal of an international convention to protect media workers’ safety and independence.

The report, entitled Clampdowns and Courage: Press Freedom in South Asia 2017-18, shows that despite a sharp increase in violence against journalists in the region convictions remain rare.  

A prominent critic of the ruling Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party was one of seven journalists killed in India last year. The murder of Gauri Lankesh led to angry protests, with politicians and journalists demanding a full investigation. The killers have not been caught.

More than 30 journalists have been killed in India over the past two decades, but the report says that conviction rates remain “near zero.”

It accused the authorities of “poor investigation, tardy trial procedures and political pressure that often lets the accused abscond or roam scot-free.”

The region is the world’s most dangerous to report on, the study suggests.

In Afghanistan alone, 22 journalists were killed in increasing violence spreading across the country, including 10 who lost their lives when the capital Kabul was hit by two bomb attacks on Monday.

In Pakistan, where 115 journalists have been killed since 2000, the report says the justice system is marked by “overwhelming impunity.”

It cites one case from 2017 in which a court overturned a rare conviction when Aminullah Niaz won an appeal against his life sentence for the murder of journalist Ayub Khattak.

Despite the best efforts of journalists’ unions in Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, authorities seem unwilling to investigate or prosecute killings, particularly those allegedly carried out by religious extremists.

An IFJ statement said: “In most of the cases of killing of journalists in South Asia, justice is elusive. The 33 journalist colleagues whom we lost this year add to a long list of hundreds of slain journalists awaiting justice after being killed for carrying out their professional duties.”

The IFJ and SAMSN urged all governments in South Asia to “urgently set in motion special measures and mechanisms to ensure justice for killed journalists.”

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