In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice.
This “10 Most Urgent” list focuses on missing journalists. Globally 64 journalists are missing, according to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which launched a #MissingNotForgotten campaign on August 30 to share their stories and to pressure authorities to continue investigating their disappearances. The pandemic has slowed or stopped several of the cases’ investigations.
Here’s September’s list, ranked in order of urgency:
Prageeth Eknelygoda, a cartoonist and columnist for online news outlet Lanka eNews, was last seen by his wife and two teenage sons as he left his house for work 10 years ago. Ahead of the 2010 presidential election, staff of Lanka eNews faced intimidation for its opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. Last year the attorney general indicted seven individuals over Eknelygoda’s abduction, and the trial is ongoing. In the past six months, Eknelygoda’s wife, Sandya, said she believed witnesses in the case were being intimidated, and threats to her and surveillance of her family had increased.
Daysi Lizeth Mina Huamán was last seen waiting for a bus on January 26, on her way to meet her boyfriend after voting in Peru’s congressional elections and filing a report for television broadcaster Cable VRAEM in the central city of Ayacucho. About a week after the disappearance, family members found her identity card and other personal documents along the side of a road between the bus stop and her destination.
In December 2014, members of the Islamic State militant group abducted two freelance journalists working for the Kurdish broadcaster Rudaw TV. The journalists had been driving to interview a local political leader when armed men stopped the vehicle, examined the occupants’ phones and laptops, and forced them at gunpoint to drive to the town of Tel Hamis, where they were imprisoned. An Islamic State court sentenced them to death by beheading. Cameraman Massoud Aqeel, who was later released in a prisoner swap, last saw reporter Farhad Hamo being taken away from Raqqa’s prison in March 2015.
4. Vladijmir Legagneur (Haiti)
Investigation stalled two years after photojournalist’s disappearance.
Freelance photojournalist Vladjimir Legagneur was last seen by his wife in March 2018 after he left their Port-au-Prince home. According to a colleague, Legagneur was working on an independent project in Grand-Ravine, known for high rates of violent gang activity. A police spokesperson said he “feared a fatal outcome” after skeletal remains and a hat were found that month near the site of Legagneur’s disappearance, but officials never announced conclusive results from collected evidence and DNA tests. There is no indication of any further investigation.
María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, a mother of two, was last seen leaving her home in the central state of Michoacán in November 2009. She reported for regional news outlets, including Zamora-based daily El Diario de Zamora and regional daily Cambio de Michoacán, and tended to focus on organized crime and local corruption, sometimes omitting her byline out of awareness of possible reprisal. In the weeks before she vanished, Aguilar’s coverage included police abuse allegations and the military’s anti-cartel efforts. According to CPJ data, at least 14 journalists are currently missing in Mexico.
Jean Bigirimana has not been seen or heard from since July 2016, after he received a call from a source in the country’s national intelligence service and left his home in Bujumbura. The reporter for independent weekly newspaper Iwacu formerly worked for the pro-government radio station Rema FM. Sources report the journalist was arrested by intelligence agents and accused of writing about exiled Burundian journalists living in Rwanda, and family members fear Bigirimana is dead. Four fellow Iwacu reporters, also targeted by government authorities, are currently serving a 2.5-year prison sentence.
A reporter and news presenter for the Palma Community Radio broadcaster in the northern Cabo Delgado province, Ibraimo Mbaruco disappeared on April 7 after leaving work and then texting a colleague saying he was “surrounded by soldiers.” The journalist’s brother told CPJ he reported the disappearance to local police and the provincial prosecutor’s office but had yet to receive any information about Ibraimo’s whereabouts and did not know if he was still alive. To date, the government has not launched a credible investigation. Mbaruco was also part of the Sekelekani network, a local civil society organization that trains citizen journalists.
In March 2007, Oralgaisha Omarshanova, who uses the pen name Oralgaisha Zhabagtaikyzy, wrote about ethnic clashes in rival regions of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s financial capital. On a business trip there, colleagues from Astana-based independent weekly Zakon i Pravosudiye (meaning “Law and Justice”) last saw Omarshanova, director of the anti-corruption department, getting into a vehicle. The following month, her brother said at a press conference that, in the weeks prior to her disappearance, Omarshanova had received several death threats via telephone warning her to stop reporting.
9. Azory Gwanda (Tanzania)
Investigation needed for rural reporter missing for three years.
The Tanzanian government has failed to conduct a credible investigation since Azory Gwanda, a freelancer who had been investigating mysterious killings in his rural community, went missing in November 2017. In a BBC interview in June 2019, Tanzania’s foreign minister said the journalist was among several people who had “disappeared and died”; however, the minister later issued a clarification saying his statements were taken out of context and that he did not know whether the journalist was alive or dead. Authorities have not responded to CPJ’s repeated requests for updates in the case.
10. Samir Kassab (Syria)
Among several unresolved cases in Syria, foreign journalist missing for seven years.
Samir Kassab, a Lebanese photographer working for the Abu Dhabi-based broadcaster Sky News Arabia, disappeared in October 2013 while reporting alongside Mauritanian reporter Iszhak Ould Mokhtar in Aleppo. Kassab’s fiancée told CPJ in 2019 that no group had claimed responsibility for the journalists’ abduction. At least nine journalists are currently missing in Syria, a country that also claims the highest number of foreign journalists missing. CPJ recently helped 60 Syrian journalists and their families escape dangerous conditions and resettle in Europe.
The One Free Press Coalition is comprised of nearly 40 prominent international members including: Al Jazeera Media Network; AméricaEconomía; The Associated Press; Bloomberg News; The Boston Globe; BuzzFeed; CNN Money Switzerland; Corriere Della Sera; De Standaard; Deutsche Welle; Estadão; EURACTIV; The Financial Times; Forbes; Fortune; HuffPost; India Today; Insider Inc.; Le Temps; Middle East Broadcasting Networks; NHK; Office of Cuba Broadcasting; Quartz; Radio Free Asia; Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Republik; Reuters; The Straits Times; Süddeutsche Zeitung; TIME; TV Azteca; Voice of America; The Washington Post; WIRED; Yahoo News.
One Free Press Coalition partners with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) to identify the most urgent cases for the list, which is updated and published on the first business day of every month.
The mission of the Coalition is to use the collective voices of its members—which reach more than 1 billion people worldwide—to “stand up for journalists under attack for pursuing the truth.” News organizations throughout the world can join the Coalition by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the public are also encouraged to join the conversation using the hashtag #OneFreePress and following developments on Twitter @OneFreePress.
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