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Attacks against journalists must be condemned, stopped by all means

Journalist Arshad Sharif. He was shot after at a roadblock in Kajiado County on October 23.

The dramatic killing of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif has sent a chill down the spines of media stakeholders and concerned observers.

According to police accounts, the journalist was shot after his car failed to stop at a roadblock in Kajiado County on October 23. While speculation will only deepen the mystery, we hope investigations will be carried out swiftly and conclusively.

Sharif’s killing came just days to the commemoration of the 2022 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The day, marked every November 2, draws attention to impunity against journalists, which, according to the United Nations, is at an all-time high.

Way back, the UN congress on crime prevention and criminal justice passed a declaration that isolated threats to journalists, and further called for a swift global push to reverse the gloomy trends. The world can’t relent.

Regrettably, safety of journalists remains a mirage in many jurisdictions. Globally, ending impunity for crimes against journalists is one of the most pressing issues to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information for all citizens. Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 journalists have been killed around the world, with close to nine out of 10 cases remaining judicially unresolved, according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists.

UNESCO posits that this cycle of violence against journalists is often an indicator of the weakening of the rule of law and of the judicial system. The latest killing of Arshad Shariff speaks to the importance to respect and protect the work of journalists as human rights defenders.

Impunity leads to killings, which are an extreme form of media censorship. Trends in the Middle East and parts of Asia have particularly been worrying. Controversy still surrounds the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh of Al Jazeera who was shot by Israeli forces in May this year.

Against the backdrop of such sustained crimes against journalists and media workers, we take this opportunity to call for more concerted cross-border efforts to protect journalists. Investigation and prosecution of those who mete out these injustices should be conducted expeditiously.

Top on the list of threats facing journalists are kidnappings, torture, arbitrary, arrests, intimidation, harassment and attacks in the digital space. Women journalists have particularly borne the brunt of ruthless criminals out to disparage them and their work. Surveys suggest that an upward of 70 per cent of female reporters have, from time to time, endured harassment online.

Since January 2022, MCK has documented 90 incidences of press freedom violation, which is an increase compared to the 70 cases documented last year.

While the media is obliged to do its work in an ethical manner at all times, it is the primary role of security agencies to protect journalists and every other citizen. The Media Council has been collaborating with the National Police Service to safeguard and protect media freedom while recognising the symbiotic relationship between media and the security sector. 

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recognises, political will is required in ensuring journalists' safety. We can build on the success stories in the war against impunity and lessons leanrt with reference to different regions, countries and cases, and their unique challenges. We have a role, individually and collectively, to ensure unconditional safety of every journalist. After all, journalism is not a crime.