Publish and be damned (or locked up, or killed)

Total British military deaths reaching 100 since 2001 is dominating the news today – one of those sad milestones that pretty much speak for themselves.

In the office we also noticed that an Afghan journalist working for the BBC was found shot dead on Sunday after being abducted the day before. Meanwhile, again across the weekend, a Somalian journalist who had been working for the BBC was shot by gunmen and likewise found dead.

I guess we all know that being in the armed forces means that you could be exposed to danger. You could actually get killed doing your job. (Quite a scary thought and probably one we don’t think about that often). But it’s easy to overlook how being a journalist, the often-disparaged “hack”, is often also incredibly dangerous.

My job means I talk to journalists every day and it’s true they’re not always polite, charming and a total delight to speak to! But, hey, they work hard, they don’t get paid that much (unless they get into the Littlejohn / Paxman league) and, if they happen to be from a repressive country then they can find that things might get very difficult indeed.

I say this partly because this morning we had the very bad news that a journalist called Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani in Yemen has been just sentenced to six years in prison for reporting on armed clashes between government forces and their opponents in the country’s restive north.

This is just the latest thing they’ve hit Abdulkarim with. He’s already had death threats, beatings and arbitrary detention. One day last year he was abducted by gunmen outside a newspaper office and was beaten up and threatened that he’d be killed if he continued to publish any more articles critical of the government. 

No, it’s not just “another day in the office” when you put it into this context.

Anyway, we’ve short-listed Abdulkarim for an Amnesty “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”. The awards get given out next Tuesday so Abdulkarim won’t be able to come and pick it up even if he is selected for the very obvious reason that he’s behind bars. Ironic, eh? Sort of.

Finally, a colleague in the office (the indefatigable Niall Couper) is off to a London vigil to highlight the growing number of media workers being killed, attacked and detained in Sri Lanka. The conflict in this particular country has got be a contender for one of the world’s most unreported and it’s right that we mark the perils of trying to cover it. 

So, ok, journalists sometimes get things wrong, they sometimes “dumb down” or write about trivia and ignore the important stuff – but some of them also take big risks to tell us what’s going on. There – I’ve said it. You can quote me on that.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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