The United Nations agency entrusted with defending media freedom today deplored the murder of journalists in Brazil, Colombia and Turkey over the past 10 days, calling on the authorities to take urgent action against such crimes, which constitute a serious threat to democracy.
“Unless the authorities are seen to punish those who use violence to silence the media, fear and self-censorship may stop journalists from voicing the whole truth as they see it in their reporting,” UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Irina Bokova said in a message on the murder of Colombian television journalist Harold Humberto Rivas Quevedo, who was gunned down while visiting a funeral home.
Mr. Rivas Quevedo, 49, hosted a political commentary show Comuna Libre on local TV station CNC Bugavisión and was a sports commentator on local radio station Voces de Occidente in the western Valle del Cauca province when he was shot by an unidentified gunman on 15 December.
José Givonaldo Vieira, shot dead on 14 December in Bezerros in the north-eastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco in his car by unidentified gunmen in what local media said looked like a contract killing, hosted a programme about social issues on Bezerros FM, a local radio station he owned, and also owned the local newspaper Folha do Agreste and a music production company.
“Attacks against the media and media professionals constitute a serious and unacceptable threat to democracy, which is based on the fundamental human right of freedom of expression,” Ms. Bokova said of his murder. “Democratic choices depend on open public debate, while the checks and balances provided by a free press bolster good governance. It is, therefore, essential that those responsible for this crime be brought to trial.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), radio hosts and independent journalists are the most common murder victims in the remote northeast of Brazil. In 2009, the country was included for the first time in the CPJ’s list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and their murderers remain unpunished.
Cihan Hayirsevener, 53, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Güney Marmara’da Yasam (Life in Southern Marmara) in western Turkey, was shot dead on 18 December in Bandirma in Balikesir province. According to the media, he had recently received death threats for reporting on a local corruption scandal.
“Democracy and violence against the press are incompatible,” Ms. Bokova said. “It is essential for the sake of Turkish society as a whole and for the sake of the basic human right of freedom of expression that the authorities bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime.”
Throughout the years UNESCO has repeatedly drawn world attention to the murder of journalists and other media workers, warning of the serious consequences such crimes entail for democracy and the fight against crime and other abuses.