Ambassador Beyrle’s Remarks at Roundtable on Safety of Journalists in the Modern World

Dear friends,

I want to thank the Union of Journalists and the Moscow Human Rights Bureau for organizing this event and for the invitation to join you today. The topic of today’s roundtable is certainly timely.  Last week’s verdict in the Anna Politkovskaya case and last month’s murder of Anastasiya Baburova have kept the subject of journalist security at the front of all of our minds.  The topic is also extremely important.  Any contract murder is a terrible crime, but the murder of a journalist in order to silence him or her, has ramifications for society beyond the crime itself.  It undermines freedom of the press and freedom of speech, essential elements of any society that aspires to be free and democratic.  

In thinking about the public ramifications of a murder, we must never forget that any murder is first and foremost a tragedy for the victim’s family and loved ones.  Alix Lambert’s fine Russian-English book, The Silencing, about the murders of six journalists, draws attention to this human element by compiling essays from the victims’ friends and family.  Alix’s book is focused on Russia.  But, as she writes, silencing of journalists is not just a Russian problem.  The United States and other countries too have seen their share of violent crime against journalists.  In 1992, New York Mafia boss John Gotti ordered the assassination of a radio talk show host, Curtis Sliwa, as retaliation for public comments Sliwa had made about Gotti.  Fortunately, Sliwa survived.  Chauncy Bailey, the former editor of the Oakland Tribune, was not so lucky.  He was murdered in 2007 in what appears to have been retaliation for articles he wrote exposing local corruption.  

And one of the most horrific crimes in recent years was the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002.  But I am proud to say that cooperation between Pakistani and U.S. law enforcement solved that case and resulted in the conviction of the mastermind, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.  

The Pearl case underscores the importance of international cooperation in protecting journalists. Journalists from different countries should share best practices and publicize crimes against their fellow members of their own community.  The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists has taken the lead in this area and we laud their efforts.  At the same time, law enforcement agencies should share intelligence and evidence and cooperate on investigations, as was done in the Pearl case.  And, finally, governments must send an unambiguous message that the murder of journalists will not be tolerated.  This is most important to me, that such a message be sent.

I am happy that representatives of all of these communities are present today. I hope that this roundtable will start a U.S.-Russian dialogue in this area and will help both our countries to better protect journalists and the values of free speech for which too many of them have died.  We hope that the Russian government will do everything in its power to bring to justice all those responsible for these crimes, and assure it of our full support of those efforts.

Thank you.

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