Two violent episodes, a few days apart, were a powerful reminder that the hunting season against journalists continues unabated. On April 9th, security forces in central Tunis ran amok with baton rounds and tear gas on journalists covering demonstrations on Martyrs’ day, an event to commemorate French troops firing on protestors in 1938 demanding a constitution. More than 10 journalists were beaten, some seriously hurt. Among the serious casualties were Nessma TV journalist Fatma Riahi who receiving multiple fractures, on-line reporter Zohra Abid and columnist Hechmi Nouira.
Several witness reports detailed the savage action by police and militias belonging to An Nahda, the Islamist party in government, smashing equipment, snatching cameras and grabbing memory cards and deleting picture, and arresting journalists in an orgy of violence not seen since the worse days of the former regime. Ironically the Tunisian authorities banned protestors from Bourguiba Avenue which was the heart of the uprising that brought down Ben Ali and brought them to power.
Less than a week earlier, 11 journalists were injured by a bomb in Mogadishu as they covered the reopening of the National Theatre, a ceremony designed to be seen as evidence that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union forces have finally ousted Al-Shabaab group from the area. The insurgent group claimed they planted the bomb. Among the journalists seriously hurt is Shabelle TV reporter Said Shire Warsame who suffered extensive burns and lost a leg.
As journalists suffer attacks and bomb blasts, the international institutions that are supposed to promote policies and plans to ensure their safety seem paralysed and unable to take meaningful action. Advanced plans to activate an effective mechanism among U.N. inter-agencies to assess the level of journalist safety, strengthen the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and press for national legislations to prosecute the killers of journalists were stifled by filibustering diplomats.
It was widely believed that the UN Draft Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity would sail through the March session of the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication Council. Instead IPDC did not take a decision and passed the buck to another UN quango, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination.
No wonder that journalists feel abandoned by the very institutions that are supported to promote their protection.