Dying to Share the Truth
By kristen blalock
January 5, 2011
On a Discovery Channel show called World’s Toughest Jobs, viewers can watch men milk lethal snakes or clean the windows of a skyscraper. It features different occupations where the person performing their position’s duties is also risking their life; however, the program has yet to feature a journalist. It might seem odd that a journalist would be featured on a show with an underwater welder, but in 2010 journalists more than earned that spot. Across the world, those who are dedicated to relaying current events fell under immense attack by authoritarianism and overall censorship of independent media. Journalists, dedicated to delivering news to their fellow countrymen, did not face a simple rewording or editing but imprisonment and even death. As states are becoming more controlling of what and how information is reported (and using brutal methods to ensure so), persecution of journalists has become a worldwide issue.
While a majority of the world was bustling about with holiday preparations this December, the former Soviet Republic of Belarus was holding its presidential elections. Surprisingly, the ballot had more than one name. In a very predictable outcome, though, Alexander Lukashenko won the election and maintained a position he has held since 1994. Lukashenko’s victory—claiming nearly 80 percent of the votes—didn’t add up for the Belarusian people. On Dec. 19, opposition protesters flooded the streets of Minsk. In their midst were scores of journalists trying to capture the nightmare that was unfolding throughout the capitol. Refusing to let anyone argue against his landslide win, Lukashenko ordered an army of riot police to stop the election protests. They did so by violently arresting some 600 people.
During the initial protests, 20 reporters were arrested and many more severely beaten. On Dec. 20, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement condemning Lukashenko’s actions and detailing the brutality reporters throughout Minsk had suffered. The situation in Belarus highlights the dependency democracy and rights have on open journalism. The moment Lukashenko realized the citizens were not going to take his questionable reelection lying down, he went after those who ran against him and those who would relay to the world what was happening in Belarus six days before Christmas.
Oleg Kashin is one journalist who cannot be silenced. Kashin works as a reporter for the Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant and has been writing about a controversial highway through the Khimki forest. On the night of Nov. 6, outside of his apartment complex, Kashin was brutally beaten by unidentified assailants who managed to break both jaws, fracture his skull, break a leg and nearly sever his fingers, successfully removing one. Kashin’s wallet, iPhone and other belongings were still on him by the time police arrived. For writers, their hands are everything. The ideal way to silence a journalist like Kashin? Start with the hands.
It’s nearly a week shy of two months since Kashin’s horrific attack, and he is expected to make a full recovery. While Kashin is moving forward, the investigation into his attack is not, and no formal arrests have been made. There are many theories as to who is behind the attack and why it was ordered in the first place. The highway that will run through Khimki forest is a very lucrative project and a friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Arkady Rotenberg, has been linked as a backer. With official corruption a common problem throughout Russia, it is doubtful the people behind Kashin’s attack will ever be named or formally investigated.
While several countries throughout Eastern Europe are rapidly making a name for themselves as difficult and often deadly places to work in journalism, one country last year stood out amongst the world. In 2010 alone, 10 journalists were murdered in the Central American country of Honduras. Aside from suffering violence for their work, opposition media became criminalized, and this December, Reporters Without Borders issued a call for the immediate release of two journalists arrested in relation to their work covering evictions.
The 10 journalists from Honduras are a fraction of the 74 journalists killed worldwide—44 of whom have a confirmed motive linked to their work. A list of these 44 confirmed can be seen on the Committee to Protect Journalists website along with the month they were killed. During the month of September, eight were killed in countries spanning from Belarus to Mexico. Four of those occurred in Pakistan, which, up until it was surpassed by Honduras, had held the world record for deadliest place for a journalist.
Since 1992, Pakistan has seen 34 journalists murdered due to their reporting. The most recent victim was Prevez Khan, a broadcast journalist who died from a suicide bombing that took the lives of 50 people on Dec. 6. Khan reported on Pakistani politics, and it is believed that the suicide bombers responsible for his death were from a political group who claim to be Pakistani Taliban. Another journalist, Abdul Wahab, was also killed in that bombing, bringing the number of Pakistani journalists to die in 2010 to eight.
It is very important to remember why independent journalism is so vital. It serves as the conduit of information between heads of state and companies to the rest of society. When the information is suppressed, censored or blocked altogether, accountability and transparency are jeopardized and corruption flourishes. Transparency International is a non-governmental organization that monitors levels of corruptions throughout the world in both the public and private sectors. In Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the countries rated as either “corrupt” or “highly corrupt” also saw the death, imprisonment or extreme censorship of journalists. This is not a coincidence but an indication as to the failing condition of human rights and the rise of authoritarianism. Journalists in these countries and throughout the world are continuing to deliver honest news despite the threats they face. Kashin is writing again, those arrested in Belarus are slowly being released and those who died did not do so in vain.