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Protesters attend a vigil for Jamal Khashoggi

Members of Reporters Without Borders attend a protest demanding justice for murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Berlin, Germany on October 1, 2019. (Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Press Freedom Groups to Convene People's Tribunal on Murders of Journalists

"We're taking killers of journalists to The Hague because states won't do it."

Julia Conley

Decrying the level of impunity in cases involving the murders of journalists, three international press freedom groups on Tuesday announced a people's tribunal aimed at holding perpetrators accountable and securing justice for reporters who have been killed for doing their jobs.
Following a request to the Permanent People's Tribunal in Rome, Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will convene a people's tribunal to investigate three murders—those of Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Miguel Ángel López Velasco in Mexico, and Nabil Al-Sharbaji in Syria.

"The frequency of grave violations committed against journalists coupled with prevailing high levels of impunity is alarming."
—Almudena Bernabeu, prosecutor

"We're taking killers of journalists to The Hague because states won't do it," said Nathan Stewart of Starling Campaigns, which is helping to promote the tribunal.
Key witnesses will include family members of other international journalists who have been killed for their reporting, including Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018 in Saudi Arabia.

"Since 1992, more than 1400 journalists have been killed, and in eight out of 10 cases where a journalist is murdered, the killers go free," the three organizations said in a statement. "The persistently high level of impunity perpetuates a cycle of violence against journalists, posing a threat to freedom of expression."

The opening hearing will be held in The Hague on November 2—the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists—and the tribunal will be convened until May 2022. In announcing the ongoing hearings, the groups noted Tuesday that it has been just 40 days since the last recorded murder of a journalist.
"His name was Jacinto," the groups said of Jacinto Romero Flores, a reporter covering crime and corruption in Ixtaczoquitlán, Mexico when he was killed on August 19 after reportedly receiving multiple threats from a local police officer.
Christophe Deloire, secretary general of RSF, said the tribunal's aims go "beyond naming and shaming authorities which allow the horrifying impunity level."
"It’s about setting a concrete and useful example of what should be done by the judiciary," Deloire said.
International human rights lawyer Almudena Bernabeu will serve as the prosecutor at the people's tribunal.

"Freedom of expression is an essential human right," said Bernabeu. "And yet, the frequency of grave violations committed against journalists coupled with prevailing high levels of impunity is alarming. It is time that states are held accountable."

Wickrematunge was killed in 2009 after exposing an arms deal involving the Sri Lankan defense secretary. López Velasco was killed along with his family in 2011 after covering kidnapping, drug trafficking, and other crimes in Veracruz, Mexico, and Al-Sharbaji was killed in a military prison in Syria in 2015.
"The role of the tribunal is important to seek justice for these courageous journalists, but it also gives family members and colleagues an opportunity to speak up and share their own stories and the impact of these brutal murders," said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ.
"Those left behind have worked tirelessly to keep the stories of these journalists alive, often in the face of threats and harassment," he added. "Their voices have been crucial in ongoing efforts to fight back against impunity."

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