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Libya, the UK and Ongoing Impunity for Crimes Against War Correspondent: The Case of Murdered Journalist Anton Hammerl

On March, 15, the Justice for Journalists Foundation Director, Maria Ordzhonikidze was speaking on the Parliamentary briefing event: Libya, the UK and Ongoing Impunity for Crimes Against War Correspondents: The case of murdered journalist Anton Hammerl.

Speakers included:

  • Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, House of Lords and Director, International Bar Association Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
  • Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl, widow of Anton Hammerl and journalist
  • Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, counsel for Penny Sukhraj-Hammerl
  • Maria Ordzhonikidze, Director, Justice for Journalists Foundation
  • Elham Saudi, Lawyers for Justice in Libya

Full speech by Maria Ordzhonikidze can be found below:

Our Foundation was established in response to the brutal murder of three journalists in the Central African Republic. Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko investigated the activities of notorious Kremlin-connected mercenaries from Wagner group. This private Russian mercenary group is believed to be funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Putin. The crimes of these mercenariesare often documented in places where Russia leads its declared or undeclared wars: Syria, Libya, Georgia, Moldova, Crimea, Africa, and now whole of Ukraine. 

We funded an independent investigation into the brutal murder of these three journalists in Central Africa. And while researching the situation, we realised that it is not a one off, that the violent crimes against media are indeed a global problem. We came across the cases like that on Anton Hammerl shot in Libya, Daphne Caruana Galitsia, blown up in her car Malta, Chris Allen, murdered in South Sudan and many, many others. Violence with the aim to silence journalists can take many forms and it is the responsibility of the states, who are signatories of various Conventions and Charters, to provide safety to journalists, uphold and foster media freedom, and of course, to investigate the crimes against media workers. However, we see many countries in the world failing to fulfil their obligations to sustain freedom of speech and protect the independent media. Other states, including Russia, are openly at war with the free media, both domestically and internationally. 

Today, as the worlds watches in horror the largest European war in over 75 years, it is more than ever important to talk about safety of those who bring us the truth about what is happening in the world. Media workers, professional and citizen journalists, documentary makers, camera people, photographers, fixers and others who report from the frontline, in many cases pay the ultimate price for doing their job and lose their lives in the line of duty.  

In the 20 days of the war we in the JFJ have recorded at least 39 attacks against media workers in Ukraine: 17 physical attacks and 22 cyber and non-physical attacks. We are receiving the information about attacks on a daily basis and we are working closely with the Ukrainian National Union of Journalists to verify them. Five media workers have already lost their lives in this war:

  • Ukrainian cameraman Yevheniy Sakun.
  • Ukrainian journalist, Viktor Dudar.
  • American documentary maker Brent Renaud was shot and killed in the town of Irpin. Two other journalists from his crew were injured and taken to hospital in the same attack.
  • Fox News Channel journalist Olexandra Kuvshinnikova, cameraman Pierre Zakrzhevsky killed and journalist Benjamin Hall  injured in artillery fire near Kyiv. 

In times of war, media workers are one of the most exposed and often most vulnerable group. But even in the times of relative peace the journalists are under constant attack. These attacks take various shapes and forms. Physical assaults, harassment, cyber-attacks, trolling, doxxing – these kind of pressure tactics are what we most often hear about. Increasingly, we are seeing hybrid attacks against media workers, when they are subjected to the varying types of threats at one given moment. Often SLAPPs or vexatious legal threats and abusive lawsuits against journalists become part of those hybrid attacks, and are closely linked with other types of harassment the media workers. These quasi legal tactics are not aimed at achieving justice, but strive to intimidate, professionally discredit and often financially ruin their targets.

The stunning fact is that “failed states” like Libya, gangster lawless states like Russia, and seemingly respectable legal professionals pursuing draining defamation or privacy breech legal suits have the same aim. And this aim is three-fold:

  • to deprive us, the public, of the truth and our right to know; 
  • to cover up the crimes of rich and powerful;
  • and to deny justice for victims: journalists and their families.

It is important to fully understand that in this global war against the truth, journalists are not a collateral damageDeliberate and well-orchestrated scare tactics are aimed at demoralising media workers and their loved ones, showing that no one cares, no investigation will follow and no justice will be served to the perpetrators.  

We at the JFJ help uncover these tactics and fight this impunity by helping investigations and standing with friends and families of Anton Hammerl and other journalists who fell victim of brutal attacks.

We believe families of the murdered media professionals deserve to know what happened to their loved ones, how they lost their lives and what needs to be done to investigate these horrific crimes and punish the perpetrators. But of course, tireless work of NGOs like ours need not be supported by the weight of democracies like the UK – it is the governments of such countries that need to pursue the criminal and enforce the law.

We want to underline the necessity of an international investigative initiative with a mandate to end the impunity and bring those who committed these crimes to justice. Criminals strive in lawless situation. This is why they initiate wars and all sorts of disruptions to the peaceful initiatives in Syria, Libya, Central African Republic, Ukraine and many others. Dictators, bandits and warlords of today didn’t have a privilege of growing up with values and respect. They only understand physical force. Life of others has no value for them. 

By letting the impunity take over we confirm they are right. This needs to change and criminals need to be chased and punished wherever they are. For the sake of our civilisation, our children, our future.