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April 23, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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The Martyrs of the Media

Stories of those who have paid for our news with their lives.

Since the year 2000, 348 journalists have paid the ultimate price for bringing us our news. They have revealed crime, political corruption and human rights abuses, which have ultimately led to their deaths. Despite the ongoing efforts of organizations such as the World Press Freedom Committee and the Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists that have been assassinated in the past 20 years has been steadily increasing. The slaughter of journalists is by no means limited to certain countries and continents; it has occurred all over the world—here are a few of their stories.

Veronica Guerin, a wife and mother, was a well-known investigative journalist before being killed by the people she was trying to expose.

Guerin was a crime reporter for the Sunday Independent, specialising in writing about the Irish drug trade and its violent gangs. Her aim was to reveal this underworld and ultimately bring it down. The first threat made against Guerin occurred in October 1994 following the publication of her story about a murdered crime boss. Bullets shattered windows in her north Dublin home. This did not deter her and she continued writing. Three months later she answered her doorbell to find a man pointing a revolver at her head. He shot her in the thigh before disappearing. After recovering from the shooting, Guerin arranged an interview with a well-known Dublin drug lord as part of her investigation into an unsolved murder. Soon after arriving at the arranged meeting place, she realised that this drug lord had no intention of being interviewed and with the help of his accomplices viciously beat her. The next day she received a phone call threatening that her young son would be raped if she wrote anything about the drug lord who attacked her.

These threats did not stop Guerin—she continued writing until her assassination. On June 26 1996, Guerin was driving through Dublin, unaware that she was being followed by two men on a motorcycle. As her car stopped at traffic lights, the motorcycle pulled up alongside her car. The pillion rider pulled out a gun, shooting her six times. There were many arrests after Guerin’s death, however only three have been charged in relation to her murder. One was acquitted, another had his conviction overturned on appeal and the other is currently serving a life sentence.

American born Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was a regular writer for the investigative magazine Novaya Gazeta. The majority of her work criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin and the human rights abuses associated with the Chechen wars. Her fight for justice and her willingness to speak out resulted in her mysterious death.

In 2001 Politkovskaya received a letter from a village of 90 families in southern Chechnya about their treatment by federal forces. They asked her to help them leave the district and migrate to Russia where it would be safer for them. Soon after receiving this letter Politkovskaya visited the families in the village that had wrote to her. They told her stories of how many of their fellow villagers had been beaten, raped, electrocuted, and moved to concentration-like camps by Russian troops. Upon leaving the village, Politkovskaya was stopped by soldiers who interrogated her over a period of three hours. She was then led outside into darkness to be executed. Politkovskaya was unaware that this was a mock execution. As she stood waiting to die, a soldier let off an explosive to imitate the sound of a firing gun. Politkovskaya fell to the ground in shock, much to the amusement of the on-looking soldiers. Undeterred, Politkovskaya continued her criticism of the Putin regime over the next five years including publishing books about Putin and the Chechen war. On 7 October 2006, at 4.10pm Politkovskaya entered her apartment building carrying bags of groceries in each hand. She entered the lift and once it had reached her floor, the doors opened to reveal a man waiting for her. He stepped into the lift and shot Politkovskaya at point-blank range. Surveillance videos show that the killer placed the gun next to her body and left the building. Politkovskaya’s murderer has never been found. Her death is one of many suspicious deaths of Putin’s critics. Ironically her murder occurred on Vladimir Putin’s birthday.

The most deadly massacre of journalists occurred on 29 November 2009 in the Filipino town of Ampatuan.

Local figure Esmael Mangudadatu was a preparing his candidacy for governor in a local election in Maguindanao province. Mangudadatu was required to file his candidacy papers in person but he had received threats that if he tried to do this he would be kidnapped. Instead, he sent his wife and sisters to file the papers on his behalf, accompanied by a large contingent of local media and supporters. As they were travelling, approximately 100 armed men forced them to stop and ordered them out of their vehicles. The group was taken to a nearby mountainous area where the kidnappers slashed the men with machetes and shot them. The women were raped and then beheaded. The bodies were then placed in a mass grave. A total of 58 people were murdered, of whom 34 were journalists and media support workers.

World Press Freedom Day is an annual event celebrated on 3 May. Its purpose it to highlight and reinforce the importance of the freedom of the press. It is also a day to remember and honour journalists who have been murdered in the course of investigating and reporting of our news.

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