CPJ’s 2019 Global Impunity Index, released on 29 October 2019, spotlights countries where journalists are slain, and their killers go free. The 13 countries that make up the list of the world’s worst impunity offenders represent a mix of conflict-ridden regions and more stable countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical and investigative reporting. Unchecked corruption, ineffective institutions and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations are all factors behind impunity, CPJ has found.
During the 10-year index period ending 31 August 2019, 318 journalists were murdered for their work worldwide, and in 86% of those cases, no perpetrators have been successfully prosecuted. Last year, CPJ recorded complete impunity in 85% of cases. Historically, this number has been closer to 90%; the past two years reflect a small improvement. The 13 countries on the index account for more than three quarters (222) of the global total of unsolved murders of journalists for the index period. All 13 have featured multiple times since CPJ first compiled the index in 2008, and seven have appeared every year.
While these countries show the most entrenched patterns of violence and impunity, it has become clear over time that even one murder of a journalist can have a chilling effect and that when the perpetrators escape justice, the intimidation is amplified. When Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was ambushed and murdered in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018, critics of Saudi Arabia worldwide received the message that there is no safe harbor.
In recent years, unchecked anti-press violence has spread to places previously considered relatively safe for the media. The October 2017 car bombing that killed blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta, followed by the murder of Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak in February 2018, put journalists in the EU on notice that covering crime and corruption can be deadly. Slovakia indicted four people, including the suspected mastermind, earlier this month. However, authorities there and in Malta have failed to achieve convictions in either case.
In its 2017 Global Impunity Index, CPJ said that since the early 1990s, 27 journalists had been killed “with complete impunity” in India. India also refused to participate yet again in UNESCO’s impunity accountability mechanism, which requests information on the status of investigations into killed journalists.
In fact, for the past several years, India has ranked among the countries with the highest number of journalist deaths. In 2016, the International Federation of Journalists listed India as the eighth most dangerous country for journalists. As of this writing, no journalist has been murdered in the country in 2019, but four were murdered in 2017 and another four in 2018.
In 2017 Shantanu Bhowmik of Dinrat (20 September 2017), Rajesh Mishra of Dainik Jagran (21 October 2017), and Sudip Dutta Bhaumik of Syandan Patrika (21 November 2017) were murdered. Gauri Lankesh of Gauri Lankesh Patrike was fatally shot as she was entering her home in Bengaluru on 5 September 2017. At the time of Lankesh’s death, Reporters Without Borders said that journalists in India “are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”
In the Gauri Lankesh assassination case, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) filed a 9,235-page chargesheet against 18 persons in November 2018, of which two were still at large more than a year later. However, the case is expected to take much longer as the conspirators have been linked to the earlier murders of two rationalists and have an extensive battery of lawyers preparing to dismantle the case.
In March 2018, three Indian journalists were killed in deliberate hit-and-run accidents within 24 hours on 26 March 2018. Sandeep Sharma of News World, who had been investigating the powerful sand mafia in the state, was murdered in Madhya Pradesh, while Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh – both working for Dainik Bhaskar – were killed on 26 March 2018 in Bihar. [Vijay Singh does not appear in the CPJ list.] Achutananda Sahu of Doordarshan was killed in crossfire on 30 October 2018.
Colombia is the only country to fall off the index since last year. In December, President Iván Duque announced that the leader of a drug trafficking group accused of murdering two journalists and their driver was killed in a joint police and military operation near the border with Ecuador.