By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
CPJ report calls murder of immigrant journalists terrorism,
but U.S. law enforcement and press remain indifferent sp.
TERRORIST ACTS HAVE been committed on U.S. soil but have gone unsolved and have received scant media attention, a new report says.
Between 1981 and 1993, 10 foreign-language journalists working in the United States were murdered, eight of them in political assassinations, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Previewed during a National Association of Hispanic Journalists panel discussion at the Unity ’94 convention in Atlanta, the CPJ report, slated for a September release, says it has established “new leads and details in many of these cases” and has documented “in almost all cases that local and national law enforcement authorities are not vigorously investigating these crimes.”
A summary of the report says the cases “are likely to remain unsolved” unless the news media spotlight “the apparent unwillingness of law enforcement officials to devote their resources to these attacks.”
The assassinations included five Vietnamese journalists and three Haitians, the study said.
“These journalists had fled repression and turmoil in their native countries only to find death in America for openly expressing their political views,” CPJ noted. “In each case, the crimes appeared to have been intended to intimidate or silence dissident voices within these communities.”
CPJ uncovered four disturbing patterns:
? Unlike the highly publicized murder case of Manuel de Dios Unanue in New York City, which resulted in arrests and convictions, most of the other killings remain unsolved and have received scant media attention.
? The journalists or their news organizations received “ideologically-motivated threats or other harassment” prior to the murders.
? Most of the murders were treated as local crimes, despite “strong indications that these were political assassinations with national and possibly international implications.” Some accounts in the mainstream media intimated “obscure reasons at play, indicating perhaps the journalists were not only press people but were involved in criminal activities as well.”
?If the U.S. Department of Justice were willing to allocate the necessary budgets and resources, the crimes could be solved, law enforcement sources told CPJ, but neither Congress nor the press appears interested.
CPJ says it found a double standard: the timely solving of murders of immigrant journalists from ethnic communities too large to ignore and of American journalists, compared with the unsolved murders of journalists from smaller communities, many of whom have only recently fled homelands where speaking out is dangerous.
For example, the 1984 murder of American radio talk-show host Alan Berg led to a nationwide FBI investigation and the arrest and conviction of two white supremacists.
Also in 1984, the murder of Henry Liu in San Francisco by assassins working for the Taiwanese military was quickly dispatched, both because it involved espionage affecting American national security and because the area’s Chinese-American population is too large to be ignored, according to CPJ.
The de Dios case also was solved, according to CPJ, because Drug Enforcement Agency officials were eager to prosecute Colombia’s Cali drug cartel and, again, because New York’s Hispanic population wields power.
The murders have had a chilling effect on the press, the report says: Haitian radio commentators have refrained from criticizing the military regime in Haiti. Vietnamese-language newspapers have avoided taking clear positions on U.S. trade and diplomatic relations. Latino journalists are hesitant to report on the drug trade.
CPJ executive director William A. Orme Jr., who met briefly with Attorney General Janet Reno, told the Unity audience that the Justice Department is aware of the situation, but little is being done.
“The non-English-language press has always been a part of the American press, and it has the same First Amendment rights,” Orme said. “This should be perceived by national journalists as an attack on all journalists.”
Ling-chi Wang, professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said “pervasive racism continues to deny the constitutional rights” of these journalists.
“Violence against the First Amendment in the Asian-American community is not new,” Wang said. “What is most disturbing is the proliferation and selectivity” and that it apparently is condoned.
Even the Liu case, which was reported to be solved, did not identify the instigators, who remain a mystery, Wang said, adding that someone should have found it peculiar that interviews with Liu’s friends and associates were all anonymous.
“One of the ways to look at why the mainstream press is so indifferent to what is going on is racism,” he continued.
for Vietnamese journalists
For Vietnamese journalists, “the dangers we left behind offered to find us here,” said Yen Do, editor and publisher of Nguoi Viet Daily in Westminster, Calif.
“In Vietnam, political assassinations were features of the war, and journalists were often the targets,” Do said.
Since the war, the murders of five Vietnamese journalists on U.S. soil remain unsolved, despite the fact that they are strong cases, Do said. Yet a conviction for the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was attained 17 years later.
“Censorship is common. Politicians and criminals tend to use assassination to silence the voice,” Do said. “Let’s prevent the next strike. They cannot be murdered with impunity.”
The CPJ report also is slated to detail attacks against more than 10 Vietnamese-American journalists working in the United States.
No room at the inn
for Hispanic journalists
Rosana Rosado, former city editor of El Diario/La Prensa, was close to de Dios, the paper’s former editor in chief, and cried as she spoke of him.
“It’s still very difficult for me to speak about him and his murder,” she said of the 1992 contract killing.
“Was he an immigrant journalist because he wasn’t born here ? even though he lived here for 20 years ? or because he was Latino?,” Rosado said.
He was a journalist who wrote about the drug cartels just as American journalists cover the mob, she said. Several reports described him as obsessed, she said, but he was “no more obsessed than any reporter chasing a good story.”
“Manuel was a Latino reporter writing on Latino issues in Spanish. Because Manuel wrote in Spanish, he has been set apart by journalists,” Rosado said, adding that his reporting was based on getting out into the community, not on “Nexis searches and approved means.”
The media were no more equipped to penetrate the community than the police, she said, expressing frustration with coverage that focused on de Dios’s reputation and journalistic standards and implied “something shady.”
Mainstream media “need to get beyond the biases about Latino media and the Spanish-language press, that they’re something less,” Rosado said. “If it was an American reporter, the instant assumption would be that he is legitimate and credible.
“It is infuriating that because he wrote in Spanish and because he was not in the mainstream media that he would not be perceived as a colleague,” Rosado said.
The greatest brutalities committed by Haitian authorities have been against journalists, said Ricot Dupuy of Radio Soliel du Haiti.
“Carrying a cassette recorder or a camera could be fatal, so a journalist must have a photographic memory,” he said. “The danger has always been there for Haitian journalists. What is new is the identification of the menace.”
That menace, Dupuy said, is the paramilitary FRAPH, the organization responsible for the death campaign now under way in Haiti and which functioning openly in New York, Miami and Toronto.
“The menace is real,” Dupuy said, especially for journalists who have seen their names on assassination lists.
“We try to tell the untold stories, but the untold stories are so many we would lose your attention,” he said of the “telephone calls, beatings and threats.
“We want none of these things,” Dupuy said. “Don’t let these realities catch you too late.”