Culture of impunity also seen in cases of missing journalists
ILIGAN CITY—Almost 10 years ago, radio broadcaster Joey Estriber was dragged into an unmarked van with tinted windows as he put up a futile resistance and shouted for help.
The abduction of Estriber happened on the evening of March 3, 2006, in front of an Internet café in Baler, Aurora, according to a case file from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
A few hours after he was abducted, his colleagues received messages from his mobile number telling them not to worry because he was just fine but in hiding. Nothing has been heard from him until now.
Calling attention to journalists who went missing is an essential part of the campaign to combat impunity against news professionals, according to Jane Worthington, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific director.
The IFJ has recorded 10 cases, including that of Estriber, of missing journalists in five countries of the Asia Pacific. The other cases are those of Juanita Nielsen of Australia; Prageeth Eknaligoda, Vadivel Nimalarajah and Subramaniam Ramachandran of Sri Lanka; Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla of The Maldives; Madan Paudel, Milan Nepali, Prakash Singh Thakuri and Chitra Narayan Shrestha of Nepal.
The oldest case is that of Nielsen who went missing on July 4, 1975. Then 38 years old, Nielsen owned and published the magazine NOW and was also involved in activism. She was last seen in Kings Cross, Sydney, according to an IFJ case file.
Sri Lankan strife
Two cases in Sri Lanka happened in 2007 and may have relations with the dynamics of the civil war between the Colombo government and Tamil rebels who practically controlled a third of the country that time.
The war ended with a decisive military victory against the Tamil rebels in 2009.
Three cases in Nepal also involved circumstances related to the political tussle between the so-called royalists and the Maoists.
Prior to the abduction, Estriber’s family noted that he has been regularly receiving threats.
Through his program “Pag-usapan Natin” in radio station dzJO, Estriber has been regularly commenting about the threat of deforestation of Aurora, criticizing the intensive logging operations in the province which saw tragic landslides in 2004 that killed more than a hundred people.
Estriber has called attention to the alleged involvement of local officials in the logging operations. Aside from his radio program, he also joined campaigns to rescind the licenses of several logging companies.
At the time of his abduction, Estriber was one of the prime movers of the nongovernment group Bataris based in Baler.
The NUJP noted that among those suspected of involvement in the Estriber abduction are state security forces stationed in the province at that time.
Culture of impunity
In addition to the killing of journalists, the IFJ said the cases of missing journalists, too, “are indicative of the wider problem of impunity for attacks against journalists…”
Worthington, in a statement, pointed to the need to “put pressure on governments and leaders to investigate these cold cases and keep their stories alive.”
“For the families, the fact that investigations have been poorly handled or non-existent only increases the suffering and loss,” the IFJ said.
“In one, the case has remained opened since the 1970s and in others the known involvement of state agencies has seen investigations pushed aside,” lamented the IFJ, a global organization that represents some 600,000 journalists in 139 countries. Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao
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