Murder Without Borders

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-04-28
  • Publisher: Random House Canada
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"I am not interested in why man commits evil; I want to know why he does good." Vaclav Havel What makes a poor, small-town journalist stay on a story even though threatened with certain death, and offered handsome rewards for looking the other way? Over four years, Terry Gould has travelled to Colombia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Russia and Iraq the countries in which journalists are most likely to be murdered on the job to attempt to answer this question. In each place, through conversations with their colleagues, their families and in some cases their murderers, he uncovers the lives of local reporters and broadcasters who stayed on a story to the point of death. He searches for the moment in which each of his protagonists understood that they were willing to die, and finds complex reasons for their bravery. In his wonderfully vivid portraits of seven courageous souls, he brings their lives and the stories they worked on to light, telling truth to those who would murder truth tellers.

Author Biography

Terry Gould is a Brooklyn-born investigative journalist who focuses on organized crime and social issues. He has won 46 awards and other honours for his reporting. His previous books are Paper Fan: The Hunt for Triad Gangster Steven Wong and The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, both published by Random House Canada. He lives in Vancouver.



The psychology of Sacrifice

Efraín Varela knew he would be murdered. He even knew the options his assassins would consider. “If they kill me in the town, they are going to shoot me,” he told his fellow journalists two weeks before his death. “If they take me in the rural area, I am going to be tortured first.” Varela specialized in exposing paramilitary atrocities and corrupt politicians in Arauca, a remote town on Colombia’s lawless plains. Over the years he’d refused bribes and survived other assassination attempts. Then, in June 2002, a hair’s breadth escape from kidnappers convinced him his moment was near. Against the advice of his colleagues, he continued his exposés, until, as he’d predicted, he was seized in the countryside, tortured and shot.

When most people think of journalists dying for a story, they picture war correspondents caught in a cross fire, but Varela’s death is a more typical case. Almost three-quarters of the more than 720 journalists who have died in the line of duty since 1992 have been targeted and murdered. The majority of the fallen – more than 85 percent – have been local journalists. Almost all the masterminds of these murders – 95 percent – have escaped punishment.

I first encountered this plague of murder-with-impunity while researching a book in the Philippines between 2000 and 2003. Fourteen journalists were assassinated outside Manila during that period and not one of their killers was brought to justice. Philippine press freedom advocates complained to the nation’s president that many of the slain had been publicly threatened by politicians and businessmen. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism predicted worse to come if the perpetrators were not prosecuted. None were, and in 2004 another eight journalists were murdered after being warned to stay silent.

The international organizations that attempted to bring worldwide attention to these unpunished killings were the New York—based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based Reporters sans frontières. To government leaders and the general public they made the case that while the murder of any person was reprehensible, the murder of a journalist for his or her reporting had consequences that went far beyond the individual’s death. Journalists stood for the public’s right to know what public figures were doing; they exposed criminality when the police refused to pursue it (or were part of it); and they enlightened communities to the activities of illegal armed groups and terrorists in their area. If journalists could be murdered in retaliation for their work and the killers suffered no consequences, then the societies in which these murders occurred would be at the mercy of sociopaths.

In May 2005, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a bulletin called “Marked for Death,” reporting that the top five countries where journalists had been assassinated since 2000 were, in order of most killed, the Philippines, Iraq, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia. These nations were weighted with problems specific to their regions and cultures, but they bore striking similarities in the systematic way criminality was licensed and protected. The journalists, too, bore striking similarities. Most worked low-paying jobs in remote areas controlled by corrupt officials. In their districts, bribery of journalists was the norm, but a lot of those assassinated were famous for being clean. Many had predicted they would be murdered if they kept at their reporting, but they persisted until the bloody end.

Though both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters sans frontières were scrupulous in their analyses of hundreds of “kill cases,” their summaries of the lives of these journalists were necessarily short, rarely more

Excerpted from Murder Without Borders: Dying for the Story in the World's Most Dangerous Places by Terry Gould
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