Mexico and Sri Lanka – Countries worst-hit by disappearances since 2000

govt-censorshipThe enemies of press freedom blamed for journalists who disappear

As the world marks the 26th International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has provided a grim reminder that nothing has been heard, sometimes for years, of scores of journalists, who have been kidnapped, arrested or simply kept “appointments” that turned out to be traps.

“Whether carried out by agents of the state or local criminals bent on settling scores, the many disappearances of journalists highlights the fact that the enemies of press freedom have no hesitation in using the most cowardly and despicable methods to gag journalists. We restate our support for the families of the disappeared and we share the pain they suffer in the waiting and uncertainty about their fate”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“We urge the relevant authorities to systematically take these disappearances seriously and to open the badly-needed investigations to find these missing journalists and punish those responsible. It is moreover incredible that cases of ‘enforced disappearance’ implicating agents of the state or those acting with its support can still be going on around the world. We urge countries that have signed the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance to ratify the law as quickly as possible so that it can be put into force”, it added.

Mexico, where eight journalists have disappeared since the year 2000, is the country most affected by this plague. Mauricio Estrada Zamora, journalist on the regional daily La Opinión de Apatzingán, has been missing since 12 February 2008 in Michoacan state in the south-west of the country, an area notorious for crime and the illegal drugs trade. The management of his newspaper said that three weeks before he went missing he wrote an article that enraged an agent of the Federal Investigation Agency.

Also in Michoacan, the editor of the weekly Ecos de la Cuenca, José Antonio García Apac, went missing on 20 November 2006 after he keeping an appointment after he received a phone call at 7.15 pm. His son got a call from his father at 7.30 pm which was interrupted by voices telling him to switch off his mobile phone and to identify himself. Nothing more has been heard of him since.

A Reporters Without Borders’ delegation that visited Mexico in July 2009 met and talked to the families of these two journalists. .

In January 2009, The International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka condemned the “culture of impunity and indifference” surrounding the disappearances of journalists in the country. Soldiers arrested Subramaniam Ramachandran, correspondent for Tamil dailies Thinakural and Valampuri, close to a military camp, Kalikai Junction, in the north of Jaffna, in the north of the country on 15 February 2007. His family has heard nothing of him since then. He had been reporting on the illegal trade in sand, implicating a businessman and members of the military. The Jaffna office of the Human Rights Commission handled the case and it was referred to the military authorities, including the commander in chief for the Jaffna region. But as lawyer Mudiyapu Remedias explained, in this type of case “everyone is afraid of challenging the army, which denied any involvement”.

Vadivel Nimalarajah, a sub-editor on the popular Tamil daily in Jaffna, Uthayan, which is highly critical of the government, has not been heard of since 17 November 2007 when, colleagues believe, he was abducted while cycling home after working overnight at the paper.

In Iran, Pirouz Davani, editor of the newspaper Pirouz, has not been seen or heard of since he left his home one day at the end of August 1998. The authorities have never shown any sign of wanting to solve the case. Those behind his disappearance have thus been ensured complete impunity. The newspaper Kar-e-Karagar reported rumours of his “execution” in its 28 November 1998 edition. Journalist Akbar Ganji, working for Sobh-e-Emrouz, confirmed these rumours at the end of November 2000 and accused the former intelligence minister and current prosecutor general, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei, of involvement in the killing. No government officials have ever commented on this report. Davani’s family took their case to the UN Human Rights Commission in December 2002.

In Gambia, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh, a journalist on the privately-owned The Daily Observer, has been missing since 7 July 2006, when he was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for an unknown reason shortly after the closure of the African Union summit of heads of state and government which was held in the Gambian capital Banjul. The Gambian government has since then refused to reveal any information about his fate. Justice Minister, Marie Saine Firdaus, said on 6 April 2009 that the journalist had never been held in a Gambian prison. However, one week later, a police officer from Mile Two prison in Banjul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had seen the journalist for the last time inside the prison, in 2008, before he was taken away in the middle of the night by a police officer in plain clothes. “Chief” Ebrima Manneh has never been seen since.

On the other side of the African continent, in Eritrea, scores of journalists have been arrested since September 2001 and most of them have disappeared into the country’s jails without their families knowing where they are. The authorities in the capital Asmara have remained completely silent about their fate.

This list of disappeared journalists is far from exhaustive.

Vincent Brossel
Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
33 1 44 83 84 70
asia@rsf.org


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