Latin American journalists featured in International Day to End Impunity campaign

By Daniel Guerra

Several Latin American journalists are featured as part of the International Freedom of Expression Network’s (IFEX) International Day to End Impunity, a month-long campaign that recounts how reporters, human rights activists, and artists from around the world have been forcibly silenced for their advocacy on promoting freedom of expression. The campaign culminates on Friday, Nov. 23.

The campaign aims to raise awareness on what it describes as a culture of impunity, which “exists when those who seek to control the freedom of expression of others do so knowing that it is unlikely they will be held accountable for their actions.”

“At IFEX we chronicle free expression violations. We see journalists, bloggers, artists whose rights are being violated and are forced to live in fear, in jail or in exile, every day. While an International Day might not be the solution, it is the opportunity to bring a global voice together to demand authorities take responsibility and bring an end to the violations,” IFEX executive director Annie Game told the Knight Center for Journalism of the Americas.

Among the tools developed for promoting the campaign include a website, a short video, and 23 profiles of journalists and human rights activists from around the world telling their stories about the different types of threats they face from other people or from their countries’ government. IFEX featured the cases of the following four journalists in Latin America:

Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima was abducted and raped during a 2001 investigation into alleged arms trafficking ring at a Colombian prison that involved state officials and members of the AUC paramilitary group.

In a 2011 article written by the Atlantic, Bedoya described the dangers women who work as journalists face. She recounted her experience of being tortured and raped by three men, who then abandoned her in a garbage dump on the side of the road. The lack of action of Colombian authorities forced Bedoya to plea her case for justice to the Inter-American Commission in Washington, DC.

“Before there was the risk -- we always had a fear of something happening to us when we covered conflict, but now I have the additional fear of what can happen to me because I'm a woman, the specific vulnerability of what can happen to my body because I'm a woman," Bedoya told the Atlantic

Lydia Cacho is a prominent Mexican investigative journalist and author who was forced to leave the country in August 2012 after receiving threats following the publication of her book, "Slavery Inc: the Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking." Cacho had also been a kidnapping victim in 2005 following her investigations into a pedophile ring that linked several Mexican politicians and businessmen. The Mexican Supreme Court dismissed that case on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

"People come up to me sometimes and say I'm their hero," Cacho said in an interview with Amnesty International on Aug. 1. "But I’m not Superwoman… I realize that I still live in a culture of impunity and that honors on a wall can't protect me."

Guyanese writer and and human rights activist Freddie Kissoon was fired from his lecturer position at the state-run University of Guyana and is currently involved in a $40,000 libel suit with the former Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo. Kissoon wrote in an Aug. 12 op-ed piece for Guyanese publication Kaieteur News how human waste has been thrown at him and how his wife lost her job with a Guyanese state-owned company. He states that these actions are in retaliation for his criticisms against the government.

“I am a human rights activist like so many others. I write an analytical commentary that the Government frowns upon. But there are pro-government commentators all over Guyana and I don’t see the opposition targeting them and harassing them,” Kissoon writes in his op-ed piece.

Venezuelan journalist and political cartoonist Rayma Suprani started to receive threats following the publication of several cartoons for Venezuela’s El Universal where she criticizes the Venezuelan government and its policies. She even became the target on Twitter where supporters of President Hugo Chávez used the hashtag #RaymaApatrida (“Unpatriotic Rayma”) to post threats and insults.

In an interview with online magazine Sampsonia Way, Suprani describes how she criticizes the Chávez regime in her drawings even though she doesn’t specifically draw him in her cartoons.

“I have been threatened by pro-Chávez gangs, but the government does not punish them for their actions because it supports them,” Suprani said. “Sometimes it is difficult to express things, but the cartoonist’s commitment is always with the readers and with the facts.”

The International Day to End Impunity, started in 2011, marks the anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, when 46 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, were murdered on Nov. 23, 2009. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called that massacre the single deadliest day for journalists since it began keeping records in 1992. Several events—including ones in Mexico, Guatemala, and Venezuela—are being held in conjunction with the International Day to commemorate that massacre promote impunity issues in those countries.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

More Articles