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WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY 2007: FOCUS ON VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS

In 1986, just a few days before Christmas, journalist Guillermo Cano Isaza was assassinated in front of his newspaper office's exit in Bogotá by two hitmen. His crime? He used his newspaper to warn fellow Colombians of the violent activities of drug trafficking mafias in the country. Some of the lawyers in charge of the investigation were bribed, threatened, even murdered. Cano's killers, however, are still at large.

This week, more than 400 journalists and participants from around the world are converging in Cano's hometown, Medellín, Colombia, to pay tribute to him and others like him who gave their lives to bring us our news while their killers got away with murder. The occasion is UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day, held annually on 3 May, whose theme this year is press freedom and one of its greatest threats, violence against journalists.

Twenty-one years after Cano's murder, being a journalist has never been more dangerous. According to IFEX member Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), 2006 was the bloodiest year on record with more than 150 murders and unexplained deaths of journalists and media workers. Iraq is once again the deadliest hotspot - accounting for nearly half of those killed last year, most of them local journalists. But what is more alarming is the number of journos killed in non-conflict areas, or as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says, that nearly nine out of 10 killers of media workers go unpunished. These topics - as well as what can be done to improve journalists' safety - will be discussed at the two-day, UN-sponsored conference in Medellín on 3 and 4 May.

How timely. Just two days ago, on 29 April, a young crime reporter for the daily Tamil paper "Uthayan", Selvarajah Rajivarman, was gunned down on his bicycle near his newspaper's office in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The Free Media Movement (FMM) notes that six media workers, including journalists, have been killed in Jaffna over the past year, and not one of the culprits has been brought to justice.

Elsewhere in Asia, RSF reports that the body of newspaper editor Pov Sam Ath, editor of "Samleng Khmer Krom", was found in a suitcase on 26 April in the Pich Nil valley in Cambodia. Then, RSF drew international attention to a suicide bombing aimed at an interior minister in Pakistan that killed 28 people on 28 April, including freelance photographer Mehboob Khan. Four other journalists were injured in the blast.

In light of this year's theme, the tenth UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, awarded each year to an individual or organisation that demonstrates courage in defending free expression according to Cano's example, is honouring slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. "Her courage and commitment were so remarkable," says Kavi Chongkittavorn, president of the Press Freedom Prize jury, "that for the first time, the prize is being awarded posthumously."

An investigative journalist for the independent Moscow paper "Novaya Gazeta", Politkovskaya often experienced the wrath of authorities for reporting on human rights abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya. She was murdered outside of her home in Moscow in October 2006, the 13th contract-style killing of a journalist in Russia since 2000, according to CPJ. None of the perpetrators have been convicted.

World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated each year since 1993, when it was hailed by the UN as a day to remember the media's vital role in promoting sustainable peace, democracy and development. As we celebrate this 3 May, UNESCO's director-general, Koïchiro Matsuura, reminds us to "appreciate the intimate relationship between securing the safety of journalists and realising our own freedoms. Our ability to act as informed citizens of the world depends on a media that can work freely and safely."

- IFEX webpage on World Press Freedom Day: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/242/
- UNESCO: http://tinyurl.com/2x3rd7
- FMM on Selvarajah Rajivarman: http://tinyurl.com/37mkox
- RSF on Mehboob Khan: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21938
- RSF on Pov Sam Ath: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21921
(1 May 2007)

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