UNESCO chief deplores murder of Iraqi, Sri Lankan journalists

7 July 2006

Once again defending freedom of the press as a vital ingredient in democracy, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today condemned the murder of journalists in two of the world’s crisis flashpoints – Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Once again defending freedom of the press as a vital ingredient in democracy, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today condemned the murder of journalists in two of the world’s crisis flashpoints – Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Iraqi journalist Alaa Hassan, who worked for Inter Press Service (IPS), was shot down on his way to work, while Sri Lankan journalist Sampath Lakmal de Silva, who had covered the conflict between the government and Tamil separatists for the weekly Sathdina, was reportedly abducted at the weekend in Colombo. His body was found the next day.

“Murders are part of the tragic daily reality of Iraq today, and journalists have to confront this reality more than any other profession,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said in a statement on Mr. Hassan’s murder.

“To continue to do their job of informing the public without restriction, they are permanently exposed to the violence that has become so horrifyingly commonplace. We salute their courage, but we must also do the utmost to improve their security, as the work of journalists is essential to bring democracy back to a country that has endured decades of oppression and violence,” he added.

According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 131 journalists and other media staff have been killed in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

Mr. Matsuura said it was “crucial” that the circumstances of Mr. Lakmal de Silva’s abduction and murder be elucidated without delay and the perpetrators brought to justice. “Democracy is truly in great danger when crimes against journalists go unpunished,” he declared. “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that must be protected.”

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), six people working for the media, including four journalists, have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last 16 months, while not a single crime against a journalist has been solved in the country for the last 20 years.

UNESCO has a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom, and Mr. Matsuura has issued frequent condemnations of the murder of journalists around the world.

 

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