Over the summer, as a book I’d written about the lives of
murdered journalists went to press, a crusading human rights reporter from the
Estemirova lived in the Chechen capital,
In the world’s most murderous countries for reporters, such
examples of unstoppable courage are not uncommon. In Latin America, South Asia,
Eastern Europe, and the
A little over four years ago, on World Press Freedom Day, I
decided to tell some of their personal stories. The CPJ had just published a report,
“Marked for Death,”
which listed the five countries where the most journalists had been murdered
since 2000. They were, in order of most killed, the
I encountered a lot of unexpected events in the five countries
I visited, including the murder of Politkovskaya, whom I was scheduled to
interview about her slain colleagues. She was gunned down in her
As I moved from place to place, I found that each of the
assassinated journalists had been very different person: Among them was an
angry left-wing economist in
Despite these differences, they shared one remarkable trait: They had reached a point at which they were willing to accept death as a consequence of their reporting. To find the source of their psychology of sacrifice, I conducted a series of life investigations, not murder investigations.
What I discovered was that they had all experienced an event early in their careers that had transformed them, wedding them to the principle that the powerful should be prevented from oppressing the weak. While fallible themselves, they went to work each morning with the conviction that the calling of journalism was to defend the defenseless. The men and women they investigated believed in the opposite principle: that the weak offered opportunities for the enrichment of the powerful. These predators dominated the five countries in which the journalists lived. I think anyone can identify with the deadly risks the journalists took if one recognizes that they were standing up for their homes. They did not arrive from somewhere else to seek adventure in their corrupt and violent lands. They lived where they died, and they tried to defend the people where they lived.
Since I began my research, Somalia
Lanka have been elevated to the list of countries that are among the most deadly
for journalists. That list is always changing, but the motives of the killers,
and the ideals of the journalists, remain the same. Last January, a Sri Lankan newspaper
editor named Lasantha
Wickramatunga was shot to death near a military base in
There are probably thousands of journalists at work today who are no less courageous than the fallen. Courage is not a quality we can assign only to those who have not survived their pursuit of a story. I met many reporters in the countries I visited who’d escaped murder only by dint of good luck and quick reflexes. They are living examples of the values for which their colleagues have died. They awake each morning knowing that at any moment they too could be killed for holding the powerful and corrupt accountable. All of them could easily have written the words Estemirova chose to conclude an article that marked the first anniversary of Politkovskaya’s murder: “It is up to us to continue her work.”
We should think of those words the next time we hear about journalists who have been murdered in faraway places. Often enough, they will have followed in the footsteps of colleagues who pressed on, knowing the fate that awaited them. They refused to bow to threats, wrote their last exposé, and would have written their next had not the expected assassin arrived to stop them.
Terry Gould is the author of Marked for Death: Dying for the Story in the World’s Most Dangerous Places. The book recently won the Tara Singh Hayer Award, named in honor of a murdered journalist and sponsored by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Click here for an excerpt.