Global Freedom of Expression


Burkina Faso, Colombia and Russia punish killers of journalists. But it is not enough.

Key Details

  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity

Globally, killers of journalist are rarely punished. According to IFEX, only in about 10 percent of cases someone is convicted. However, in June, the Global Freedom of Expression legal database identified two judgments from Colombia and Russia where the courts punished murderers of journalists. In Burkina Faso, the court ordered the government to re-investigate the slaying of a journalist.

Killings of and threats against journalists undermine freedom of expression. Just in the last ten days Rubén Espinosa, a Mexican journalist, Gleydson Carvalho, a Brazilian radio-host, and Rasim Aliyev, a journalist from Azerbaijan, were killed. All three worked on uncovering corruption. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that at least 660 journalists have been killed around the world with complete impunity since 1992.

In Burkina Faso, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ordered the authorities to resume the investigation of Norbert Zongo, a reporter and editor of the weekly news journal L’Indépendant. He was murdered in 1998 along with his younger brother and colleague. Last year, the African Court already ruled that the government of Burkina Faso failed in its obligation to adequately investigate the journalist’s murder. According to the CPJ, Norbert Zongo is the only journalist who has been killed there between 1992 and 2015, and thus is also the only case of impunity in the country. The new Burkina Faso’s government pledged to battle impunity and the way it reacts to this decision will set the standard of journalistic security in the country.

In Colombia, the court sentenced Francisco Ferney Tapasco González to 36 years in prison for ordering the murder of Orlando Sierra Hernández, a journalist reporting on corruption and deputy editor of La Patria, in 2002. The Foundation for Press Freedom, a Colombian based organization, stated that this was the first time that all perpetrators of a journalist’s murder had been convicted. Unfortunately, during the thirteen year long process, nine witnesses were also killed. The tally of unresolved cases has not been damaged much by this decision, as 36 of 46 murders of journalists remain unpunished.

In Russia, Ilya Goryachev, the leader of the “Militant Organization of Russian Nationalists” or “BORN,” as it is referred to in Russian, was imprisoned for life for organizing the killings of several people. His victims included Anastasiya Baburova, a journalist of Novaya Gazeta, and Stanislav Markelov, a prominent human rights lawyer. The pair was slain in 2009 after leaving a press conference together. Anastasiya Baburova’s stories focused on activities of neo-nazis and neo-fascists in Russia. Despite this conviction, there are still 32 out of 56 unresolved cases of murdered journalists in Russia since 1992.

In a Joint Declaration on Crimes Against Freedom of Expression, parties from the UN, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights noted that violence and other crimes against journalists represents an attack on their freedom of expressions and everyone’s right to seek and receive information. Governments need to take a proactive role in establishing effective mechanisms, as well as punishing offenders swiftly and heavily.

The June decisions offer a glimmer of hope to active journalists and families and friends of those slain in other countries. But the decisions took years to come. In Colombia and Burkina Faso over a decade passed since the journalists were slain. It is clear that nations need to be more proactive in curbing corruption and strengthening law-enforcement and the judiciary.


Bach Avezdjanov

Program Officer, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression