A version of this article was first published by theGlobalist on October 27, 2018.
It is time to be far more forceful in defending reporters and activists who serve the public and monitor the powerful.
by Frank Vogl
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is the latest case of assassinating a courageous journalist who was not intimidated by a government whose top officials engage in very dubious, if not criminal activities with impunity.
The decision by President Trump to go out of his way to state that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) did not order the killing will not only encourage the saudis, but dictators everywhere, to imprison, torture, intimidate, and sometimes murder reporters with impunity. MBS’s position is now secure.
There is blood on the hands of the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Russia and many other countries, including tiny Malta.
It was 12 years ago, on October 7, 2006, that the journalist and human rights worker Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in her Moscow home. And it was one year ago, on October 16, 2017, that Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruona Galizia was blown to pieces by a bomb planted in her car.
As a co-founder 25 years ago of Transparency International, the global anticorruption organization, I have seen the rising level of murders and death threats that terrify rising numbers of journalists and civil society activists around the world. The scale of this urgent problem is now at crisis levels.
U.S. President Donald Trump is not blameless. Through his daily attacks on the press for “fake news” and calling the press “the enemy of the people,” he has, perhaps unwittingly, given encouragement to dictators on all continents to attack reporters and activists.
They are killed and tortured in Syria, locked up by the dozens in Egypt, Turkey, Iran and many more countries. Khadija Ismayilova was imprisoned in 2014 and now is banned from traveling from her home in Azerbaijan – her crime is that she exposed corruption and multi-billion dollar money laundering by top officials and their cronies in her country.
Two investigative Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were recently sentenced to seven years in prison by the Myanmar authorities for the “crime” of reporting the truth about a massacre in 2017 of Rohingya Muslims.
Remembering the dead
At a recent conference on global corruption in Copenhagen, Matthew Caruanna Galizia talked about the killing of his mother. Her articles were increasingly shining a spotlight on systematic corruption across the Maltese government.
Daphne Caruona Galizia’s particular focus was on two high-level officials. It begs disbelief – but actually fits the pattern – that some of those same officials who were the subjects of her reports are now involved in the so-called investigation of her murder.
Matthew spoke with passion about the need to be inspired by his mother’s valor. She stands as a proud example for journalists and activists to refuse to be pressured and made complicit by corrupt politicians, no matter how serious the risks.
He spoke on the occasion of the announcement by Transparency International (TI) that it was awarding its annual integrity prize to Daphne.
Also in Spain
TI also gave out another anti-corruption award this year, the other one going to Ana Garrido Ramos, the brave Spanish whistle-blower. Despite multiple death threats over the last eight years, she has worked tirelessly to expose grand corruption at the highest levels of her country’s politics.
This modest and determined woman learned about local government corruption in 2009. She went to the authorities to report it and then followed the money trail. Over the years, she uncovered systems of kickbacks and bribes associated with public procurement contracts. The prime beneficiary of the schemes was Spain’s then-ruling People’s Party.
The work of Ana Garrido Ramos contributed to the unprecedented vote of no-confidence in the Spanish parliament last June which forced the resignation of prime minister Mariano Rajoy.
This story underlines the fact that grand corruption, and intimidation of those who seek to expose it, is not just the preserve of developing or East European countries, as is so often presumed in Western Europe. This happened in Spain!
It is getting worse
Many valiant reporters have died in wars. But there is also a long history of reporters and activists being killed because they have unrelentingly pursued investigations that tell the public that those wielding political power are crooked.
As the murders of Jamal Khashoggi and Daphne Caruan Galizia highlight, governments are more brazen than ever. Worse, they are more confident that there will be no lasting retribution by the international community for the crimes these governments have perpetrated.
The rhetoric of “fake news” that has become so commonplace from the highest political offices from Washington, D.C. to Budapest are a dangerous enabler of targeted attacks on the reporters and activists who insist on speaking truth to power.
Not all of these incidents make the news. Far from it. Most of it is a case of steady, but off-the-public-radar intimidation.
A friend of mine in Eastern Europe who has publicly campaigned against his government’s corruption is receiving a torrent of personal attacks. He has been vilified repeatedly in state-controlled media, while all manner of threats against him and his family have been hurled at him through social media channels.
Where is the response?
The situation is intolerable, but I fear it will get worse. Too few major political leaders are willing to bluntly announce that their words of condemnation will be followed by meaningful action.
After the Khashoggi murder, German Chancellor Merkel has stated that her government will act. One hopes she does. But it is unlikely that the British and the Americans, otherwise always so keen on sanctioning evil-doers, will follow her lead.
These two nations are apparently keen to teach morals only to Russian crooks. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, they apply a troublesome double standard. They place higher priority on selling arms to the Saudis.
Not despite, but because of these challenges that present themselves on many fronts in the fight against corruption and media intimidation, Delia Ferrera Rubio, the leader of Transparency International, suggests to redouble the global effort.
We must stand united in shaming all those world leaders who fail to act against those dictators who jail, torture and murder journalists and activists. We must spread the word under #defendcivicspace.