International Workers Memorial Day and attack on press freedom in Afghanistan

Motion 157 This DM notes that, more than sixteen years after the murder of the investigative journalist and Belfast Branch officer Martin O’Hagan, there have been no convictions for the crime, despite the identities of those who ordered and carried out the assassination being widely known. Noting the failure of the investigation by UK police services, especially the PSNI, DM instructs the NEC to seek to enlist the support of OSCE, the Council of Europe and the UN for an effect international investigation into the murder of Martin O’Hagan.  

Irish Executive Council motion at last week’s Biennial Delegate Meeting of the National Journalists in Southport.

Today is International Workers Memorial Day, when we pay tribute and remember those colleagues we have lost over the years.

Yesterday was the deadliest day ever for journalists in Afghanistan, when 10 journalists were killed in two separate incidents.

The first incident, in central Kabul, was when the second of two back-to-back suicide attacks targeted journalists yesterday. As journalists rushed to report on those targeted in the first attack, a second bomb was detonated by a man disguised as a journalist.   At least 29 civilians were also killed and many others, including two journalists, were seriously injured. In a separate incident, two unknown gunmen riding on a motorcycle killed Ahmad Shah, a journalist with the BBC Afghan service who was returning to him home at the time, in Khost province, Eastern Afghanistan.

It was only a week since delegates at the National Union of Journalists had gathered together outside the conference hall to pay silent tribute to the 162 journalists who had lost their lives this since the last Delegate Meeting two years ago.

In Ireland, we have not escaped these deadly attacks.  One in particular is at the forefront of my mind. Almost 17 years ago, on 21 September 2001, Martin O’Hagan was murdered in the street by  killers from the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF).  His wife Marie kneeled to comfort him as he died. Marty wasn’t the first journalist to be a victim of loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

Martin O’Hagan’s Funeral Pictures | Getty Images

At the time of his murder, he worked for the Sunday World, under the editorship of Jim Campbell, a campaigning journalist of the highest integrity – cut from the same cloth – as Martin O’Hagan.  Campbell regularly carried courageous exposes of paramilitaries without fear or favour.   He was himself was shot and seriously injured in a murder attempt in 1984 by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) after revealing details about one of its North Armagh assassins, Robin Jackson – The Jackal.

Martin O’Hagan was a friend and comrade and an important person in my life.

In 1985, he recruited me into the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), before commissioning my first by-lined piece for Fortnight magazine, the NI political, current affairs and arts magazine of which he was then Deputy Editor. The piece was an interrogation of the deeply complicated links between British and Italian neo-Nazis, loyalist paramilitaries and Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland.

I got anonymous letters telling me I was being watched after publication. That was par for the course in those days. There were many more deadly plots around.  In 1988, my family had to move house after my late husband Liam Clarke, an investigative journalist for The Sunday Times, uncovered a plot by the Provisional IRA to murder him.

And on 26 June 1996, the highly respected investigative journalist Veronica Guerin was shot dead in Dublin by the Gilligan gang –  after she had written extensively about his criminal activities.

Gangland murder: Veronica Guerin in June 1996, shortly before the John Gilligan gang killed

But Jim Campbell and Martin O’Hagan were different. They were both victims of a concerted – and multi-layered – deadly plot to conceal the truth. No-one has yet faced justice for the murder of Martin O’Hagan.  At the same time, the very dogs in the streets know the names of his killers. The Jackal, who died in 1998, was never prosecuted for his assassination attempt on Jim Campbell. 

There are many, many victims in the North of Ireland who are facing the same struggles for justice and disclosure. There is a deep, deep, deep establishment at work here.

I am proud to stand beside the 10 journalists murdered yesterday in Afghanistan.

I am proud to stand beside the 17 journalists (and many others) recently killed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Yasser Murtaja, who was shot even though he wore wearing a flak jacket with clear press markings. It is hard to imagine that his killing was accidental.

I am proud to stand beside investigative journalist Anna Politkovskya, who was found assassinated in the lift of her apartment block in central Moscow. The late oligarch Boris Beresovsky, who himself died in mysterious circumstances, said that Vladimir Putin had issued a threat to Politkovskya amd colleagues that “they will take (it) in the head, literally, not figuratively” if they “open the mouth”. Anna Politkovskya was shot four times, once in the head, on Putin’s 54th birthday, 8 October 2006.

I am proud to stand beside Daphne Galizia Caruana, who was murdered in a car bomb attack in Malta on 16 October 2017 and whose national and international reputation was built on her regular reporting of misconduct by Maltese politicians and politically exposed persons.

I am proud to stand beside Jim Campbell and Martin O’Hagan.

And I am proud to be a member of a union – the NUJ – which campaigns – and will continue to campaign – for the safety of journalists, for justice and for freedom of speech. 

So many years after some of these murders, it is time to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr, himself gunned down in a hotel room.  ‘It is always the right time to do the right thing.’







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