In an initiative two days before International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (30 August), Reporters Without Borders has referred the cases of missing journalists in ten countries to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
In a letter sent today to the chairs of these two working groups, Ariel Dulitzky and Seong-Phil Hong, Reporters Without Borders secretary Christophe Deloire has asked them to open or re-open investigations into these cases and to initiate the relevant procedures with the countries that are breaking international law in this area.
The cases cited in the letter include those of nine journalists who have been missing in Iraq since last year, and 11 Eritrean journalists of whom there has been no news since 2001.
The perpetrators of disappearances are often unknown. In countries such as Mexico and Colombia, missing journalists often covered sensitive subject linked to organized crime or political violence. But there are governments that hold journalists incommunicado in secret locations for months or years on end. This is the case in Syria, Eritrea, Libya, Iran and Turkmenistan.
“Enforced disappearances are the consequence of criminal acts that violate several human rights – the right to life, the right to freedom and the right to due process,” Deloire said in the letter. “Violence and crimes against journalists constitute attacks not only against the victims but also against freedom of expression, the right to inform and its corollary, the right to receive information.”
For each case of a missing journalist or the country concerned, Reporters Without Borders has filled out an official form that has been sent with the letter.
1 - María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe (Mexico), missing since 2009
María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe has been missing in Mexico since 11 November 2009. A resident of Zamora (in the southwestern state of Michoacán), she had worked for the Zamora daily El Diario and the statewide newspaper Cambio for the past four years, covering crime and police work. On the day of her disappearance, she left her home after getting a mysterious phone call and has not been seen since. Shortly before disappearing, she covered a case of abuse of authority involving the local police chief. The La Familia crime cartel had also harassed her in connection with her coverage of the arrests of two of its members. Five years after her disappearance, the case is shelved. The investigation by the special prosecutor’s office for crimes against freedom of expression made no progress.
2 - Borja Lázaro (Colombia), missing since 2014
Spanish freelance photographer Borja Lázaro went missing on 8 January 2014 in Cabo de Vela, a village in Colombia’s northeastern department of La Guajira, where he had been doing a series of photo-reportages on indigenous cultures. As he disappeared in a drug-trafficking region dominated by “Bacrim,” criminal gangs that have their origins in the paramilitary movement, he may well have been kidnapped. The Colombian and Spanish authorities began investigating the case on 23 January 2014 but, more than a year and half later, have made no significant progress.
3 - Prageeth Ekneligoda (Sri Lanka), missing since 2010
Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political analyst and cartoonist critical of the government (then controlled by the Rajapaksa family), disappeared after leaving the Lanka E-news website’s office in Homagama, near Colombo, on 24 January 2010. The Sri Lankan authorities did not try to find him and provided the family with no information. In 2011, Reporters Without Borders and Cartooning for Peace launched an international campaign to draw attention to the case.
Five years after his disappearance, the case was reopened following Maithripala Sirisena’s election as president in January 2015. Two former members of Tamil Tiger intelligence, a Sri Lankan army officer and four soldiers were arrested on 24 August. The two Tamil Tigers have reportedly confessed to abducting Prageeth and handing him over to an army base in Girithale, in the centre of the country, the same day.
4 - Ahmed Rilwan (Maldives), missing since 2014
Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist working for the independent online newspaper Minivan News, was reported missing in Maldives on 8 August 2014, a few days after writing about death threats against himself and other reporters. Aged 28, he mainly covered religious issues, politics and the environment. He was last seen at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in the capital. Several witnesses said a person meeting his description was abducted and forced into a car. The police arrested three suspects in September 2014 and but released them without charge. Since then, the investigation has not progressed. Instead, the police have tried to intimidate his family and supporters, and prevented a news conference being held on 8 July 2015 about the state of the investigation.
5 - Pirouz Davani (Iran), missing since 1998
Pirouz Davani, the editor of the newspaper Pirouz, went missing aged 37 on 25 August 1998. He had been a member of Toudeh (a pro-Soviet communist party) in the 1980s and, as such, was detained for seven months in 1982. He was also jailed for eight months in 1989 for publishing articles containing interviews with the families of executed prisoners.
His disappearance came at a dark time in Iran’s recent history when many intellectuals and government opponents were murdered. On 28 November 1998, the daily Kar-e-Karagar reported rumours that he had been “executed.” Akbar Ganji, a Sobh-e-Emrouz journalist who investigated the case, reported in late November 2000 that Davani had indeed been murdered and he implicated Mohseni Ejehi, a mullah close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who was the special clerical court’s prosecutor. Since then, Ejehi has held the positions of minister of intelligence and prosecutor-general and is currently No. 2 in the justice ministry, of which he is its spokesman. The Iranian judicial system never investigated Davani’s disappearance.
6 - Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari (Libya), missing since 8 September 2014
Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari, Tunisian journalists working for First TV, were reported missing on 8 September in Libya, where they had gone to do a report on the situation in the Tunisia-Libya border region. They were last seen near Ajdabiya. An Islamic State affiliate is said to have issued a communiqué in January saying they had been executed but this was not immediately confirmed.
The Tobruk-based government, which is recognized by the international community, announced in late April 2015 that seven journalists, including Sofiane and Nadhir, had been murdered by members of armed groups in Libya. The others named were five journalists working for Libya’s Barqa TV – an Egyptian cameraman (Mohamed Galal) and four Libyans (Khaled Al-Subhi, Younès Al-Mabrouk, Abdussalam Al-Maghrebi and Youssef Al-Qamoudi).
As no tangible evidence have ever been produced in support of this announcement, Reporters Without Borders wrote to Bernardino León, the special representative of the UN secretary-general in Libya, requesting an independent investigation under UN Security Council Resolution 1738 of December 2006, the Geneva Conventions and their three additional protocols. At various news conferences and demonstrations in support of the families of the two journalists, Reporters Without Borders has also urged the Tunisian authorities and the protagonists of the transitional process in Libya to shed light on their disappearance.
7 - At least nine journalists (Iraq), missing since 2014
More than 20 journalists have been kidnapped in northern Iraq since Islamic State began its offensive there in June 2014. Some were killed while others were eventually released. But there is no news of the fate of at least nine of the journalists held by Islamic State.
Since Islamic State began its offensive, reporters have stopped covering some of Iraq’s regions. Islamic State is waging a strategic war against the Iraqi army and its allies, but it is aware of the importance of information and propaganda and, as a result, it deliberately targets journalists, accusing them of collaborating with the Iraqi regime or providing information to the outside world.
8 - Nazım Babaoğlu (Turkey), missing since 1994
A young correspondent for the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem in the southeastern city of Urfa, Nazım Babaoğlu disappeared without trace on 12 March 1994 after volunteering to go to the small town of Siverek in response to a mysterious call to the newspaper. He had been expecting to report on the activities of “village guards,” pro-government militiamen who were notorious for their use of violence. He never came back. No credible investigation has ever been conducted in the 21 years since his disappearance.Working for Özgür Gündem was extremely dangerous at the height of the fighting between government forces and PKK-led Kurdish rebels in the 1990s. Babaoğlu’s case is typical of the impunity that continues to reign for the mass crimes committed at that time, including the murders of a score of journalists. Although the details of the repressive methods used to combat the Kurdish national movement are now well known, justice has never materialized. Impunity is now guaranteed by a 20-year statute of limitations on unsolved murders.
9 - “Chief” Ebrima Manneh (Gambia), missing since 2006
A reporter for the pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, “Chief” Ebrima Manneh has been missing since 7 July 2006, when he was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for unclear reasons shortly after the end of an African Union summit in Banjul. In April 2009, then justice minister Marie Saine-Firdaus denied any government role in his disappearance. But a week later, a police officer said he had seen Manneh in Banjul’s notorious Mile Two prison in 2008. President Yahya Jammeh said in March 2011: “Let me make it very clear that the government has nothing to do with the death or disappearance of Chief Manneh.” Reporters Without Borders has never regarded him as dead. He still appears on our website’s list of imprisoned journalists.
10 - Eleven journalists (Eritrea), missing since 2001
In September 2001, when the eyes of the world were fixed on the United States and Afghanistan, everything suddenly changed in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. Eleven journalists were arrested in a series of raids and were detained illegally for several months before being moved to unknown locations. No one in Eritrea has ever heard their names mentioned since that moment, almost 15 years ago. The Eritrean government refuses to say whether they are still alive and, if so, where they are being held. Giving them access to justice is clearly out of the question. According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, only four of them are still alive – Dawit Isaak, Seyoum Tsehaye, Amanuel Asrat and Temesgen Gebreyesus. Their whereabouts continues to be unknown.