After police in Kasensero, Uganda, arrested Sengooba Eddie in September in connection with the murder and robbery of a motorcycle taxi driver, a group of angry fellow drivers gathered at Eddie's home. In an act of vigilantism recorded by freelance radio reporter Paul Kiggundu, the bikers burned Eddie's house to the ground.
Assuming Kiggundu was a spy for the police, the mob turned on him, kicking and beating him until he was unconscious, ignoring his screams that he was only a journalist, according to witnesses. He later died of internal bleeding at nearby Kalisizo hospital.
Shocked by the incident, the chairman of Uganda's Human Rights Network for Journalists, Robert Ssempala, said: “Injustice cannot be used to obtain justice.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Ugandan police to bring the perpetrators to justice. “No journalist should be killed simply for carrying out their profession,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
Kiggundu's death reflects the dangers faced by freelancers and journalists who work for small, independent media outlets around the world. They report on critical issues but often lack the support provided to staff reporters employed by larger news organizations. Furthermore, in an era of shrinking foreign and domestic news bureaus, struggling media organizations increasingly are relying on freelance journalists. Nine freelancers were among the 72 journalists killed in 2009.
The CPJ said impunity is the greatest threat to local journalists because it leads potential murderers to believe they will never be held accountable. “The perpetrators assumed, based on precedent, that they would never be punished,” said CPJ. “Whether the killings are in Iraq or the Philippines, in Russia or Mexico, changing this assumption is the key to reducing the death toll.”
Several international press-freedom organizations help journalists and freelancers cope with threats, injuries and other obstacles. For instance, when Mikhail Beketov, editor of a suburban Moscow newspaper, was viciously attacked for his coverage of local government policies, he suffered a skull fracture, concussion and leg and finger injuries that required partial amputations. CPJ's Journalist Assistance Program provided ongoing financial support to Beketov during his long rehabilitation. Similarly, during the Iranian government's post-election crackdown on journalists in 2009, photojournalist Ehsan Maleki was forced to flee his home in the face of likely imprisonment. CPJ helped him resettle in another country.
Other journalist assistance programs include:
International Federation of Journalists — Based in Brussels, Belgium; promotes international action to defend press freedom and social justice through independent journalist trade unions. (www.ifj.org/en/splash)
International Freedom of Expression Exchange — A clearinghouse based in Toronto, Canada, providing accurate, timely information on freedom of expression issues and abuses worldwide. (www.ifex.org)
Media Legal Defence Initiative — A nongovernmental organization based in London that provides legal support to journalists and media outlets around the world. (www.mediadefence.org/index.html)
The Rory Peck Trust — Supports freelancers around the world from its base in London; promotes good practices on behalf of freelancers, supports their right to work safely and provides them with assistance when needed. (www.rorypecktrust.org)
World Press Freedom Committee — An international umbrella organization of press-freedom groups; fights against press restrictions such as the licensing of journalists and imposition of mandatory codes of conduct. (www.wpfc.org)
— Jennifer Koons