Maverick Citizen


Global wheels of justice turn slowly for slain journalists

Global wheels of justice turn slowly for slain journalists
In the 18th African Investigative Journalism Conference, the Carlos Cardoso Memorial lecture focused on journalists being killed with impunity. From left: Penny Sukhraj, widow of murdered photographer Anton Hammerl, veteran journalist and activist Angela Quintal and Baba Hydara, co-publisher of Gambia’s The Point newspaper. (Photo: Supplied)

The families of journalists killed in the line of duty can find themselves on a long and often futile journey to find justice.

Investigative journalists from around Africa and beyond came together at the 18th African Investigative Journalism conference last week to discuss ways of researching and investigating corruption, drug cartels and environmental, health and gender issues.

The sessions were underpinned by advice on how best journalists can stay safe as they pursue their stories. 

A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists showed that 278 journalists have been killed globally in the past 10 years — 81% of these deaths either remain unsolved or the perpetrators have never been held accountable.

Burkina Faso-based investigative journalist, Atiana Serge, said he fears for his life constantly, and that has changed the way he and his colleagues work.

“Our movement is limited because of the threats and attacks by violent armed groups. They target symbols, institutions and representatives of the state, including the defence and security forces, local leaders and political figures.”

Read on Daily Maverick: Unesco reports fewer journalists were killed in 2020/21, but the rate of impunity is dangerously high

With a history of coups, Burkina Faso has entered a cycle of more frequent terrorist attacks since 2014. Serge says the capital, Ouagadougou, allows for a little more mobility but the peripheral towns — especially by the borders — are hard to navigate as the armed groups are most active there.

Threats to media freedom on the continent come in various forms including repressive policies and laws, violent groups, corrupt politicians silencing journalists and heads of state labelling journalists as terrorists.


Delivering the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture at the conference at Wits University on Tuesday, along with South African journalist Penny Sukhraj, Baba Hydara, co-publisher of Gambia’s The Point newspaper, says one of the ways the press is suppressed in Gambia is through forcing media houses to pay registration fees of up to 500,000 Dalasi (R145,000). The amount was hiked from 100,000 Dalasi (R29,000), making it almost impossible for some media to stay afloat.

“Many journalists have paid the ultimate price for standing up for the truth. My father, Deyda Hydara, was killed by the dictatorial regime of former president Jammeh, following his persistent criticism of the draconian media laws that were used by the government to intimidate and harass journalists.

“It’s sad to report that such laws still exist on our law books, making it very difficult for media houses to operate in such a climate,” said Hydara.

cardoso lecture hydara

Baba Hydara says laws that stifle press freedom in Gambia still exist. (Photo: Supplied)

Deyda Hydara, co-founder of The Point, was murdered in 2004 by a hit squad working for former dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Seventeen years later, Baba Hydara is still seeking justice for his father’s death. He commended the international solidarity he witnessed to help fight his family’s cause, and called for collaboration within the continent to end the killing of journalists.

A small comfort was when the current Gambian government’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission found that his father’s death was indeed tied to Jammeh, along with the disappearances, killings and torture of opposition activists, journalists and peaceful demonstrators. 

“Most recently, the German judiciary selected my father’s case as one that qualifies for universal jurisdiction, which meant that it could be tried in Germany since one of the members of Jammeh’s death squad lived in Germany and was arrested there,” said Hydara.

Anton Hammerl

Penny Sukhraj echoed Hydara’s sentiment on breaking down silos and building solidarity to protect journalists from the ever-rising threats. 

Her husband, photographer Anton Hammerl, was killed while on assignment in Libya 11 years ago and the family has battled to get answers from the Libyan and South African governments on where his body is.

Despite the authorities remaining uncooperative, Sukhraj hasn’t given up on her quest to locate her husband’s remains.

“He travelled to Libya with his passport… it was on him when he was murdered. It was later sent to us by the South African government. No explanation accompanied it. 

“We have Anton’s passport, but we still don’t know what happened to his body. We still don’t have a grave to visit. We believe, under international law, we have a right to know,” said Sukhraj.

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Her family lived in London at the time of Hammerl’s death — he had dual South African and Austrian citizenship. As he was a freelancer, there was no large media organisation to help her in getting justice for her husband. However, she says offers of assistance have been made by SA ambassador to the UK, Jeremiah Mamabolo, and Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s legal team.

“Families like ours — and yours — cannot be expected to undertake investigations from afar, let alone put up expensive legal battles. Thank you therefore to our international team, Doughty Street Chambers, and our local team, Webber Wentzel, for their invaluable pro-bono work.

“We are not the first family this has happened to. I fear we will not be the last. My hope, and wish, is that through the campaign for justice for Anton, we will ensure that these cases are taken seriously and properly investigated,” said Shukraj.

“The wheels of justice and truth turn slowly and I believe the arc of the universe leans towards justice,” said Sukhraj. MC/DM


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