Freedom of the press is a cornerstone to every just and free society. Today, on this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, we salute all journalists, especially those who risk their safety and their very lives to inform citizens with accurate reporting. Factual, accurate reporting should never put anyone’s life in danger.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization reports that 97 journalists worldwide were killed for doing their jobs in 2019 and 2020. Thousands more are subject to harassment, false imprisonment, torture, and other heinous crimes. Many others are “missing,” leaving their friends and family awaiting news of their fate for years, such as the nine journalists in Syria who disappeared between 2012-2015 and remain unaccounted for today. This must stop.
We remember those brave journalists who have died, whether at the hands of brutal regimes or other criminal entities, including:
- José Carmelo Bislick in Venezuela, abducted and killed after reporting on corruption;
- Julio Valdivia, found beheaded alongside railroad tracks in the State of Veracruz after reporting on crime and security in México;
- Irina Slavina, who died of self-immolation after a campaign of harassment by Russian security services for her reporting work;
- Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine, murdered in 2016 in a hit organized by people who remain at large;
- John Gatluak Manguet Nhial of South Sudan, murdered in 2016 when soldiers attacked people, including aid workers, at a private residential compound;
- Azimjon Askarov, who died in prison while serving a life sentence in the Kyrgyz Republic for a conviction marred by irregularities;
- Chinese citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, detained by public security authorities for courageously reporting the truth about conditions in hospitals during the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan Province;
- Roberto de Jesús Haces, beaten and subjected to a one-year term of prison abuses for merely attempting to cover the trial of two Cuban pastors who were homeschooling their children;
- Aníbal Toruño in Nicaragua, whose radio station loyalists to the Ortega regime torched in 2018, and who is still under persistent surveillance by state security;
- The nearly 300 journalists in Belarus beaten, harassed, and detained for their coverage of the protests against the fraudulent August presidential election;
- The many media activists and journalists in Zimbabwe arrested under the guise of COVID-19 lockdown regulations; and
- The reporters allegedly assaulted by Nigerian security forces for covering protests against police brutality; and
- The journalists targeted by insurgents and other groups in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
We also remember the brutal killing of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and continue to demand full accountability for all individuals responsible for his heinous murder.
USAID will continue to support free and independent media and the protection of journalists around the world. We call on all governments to condemn the repression of journalists and hold to account those who threaten their lives and livelihoods. Ensuring an informed populace is the backbone of democracy, and journalists are critical to this effort. They must be free to report the truth without fear of reprisal.