Bloody and forgotten journalist deaths, from a female Mexican blogger to an Azerbaijani critical of Iran

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Fri, January 20th, 2012

Mukarram Khan Atif was number two. The second journalist killed so far in 2012, that is. He was gunned down while praying at a mosque in Shabqadar, in northern Pakistan.

Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro was posting details about drug traffickers to Twitter and a social media website called “Nuevo Laredo en vivo”. Her body and severed head was found last September, one of 46 journalists killed in 2011 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

A terrorist group called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility. Atif worked for a Pakistani TV channel and served as a stringer for Voice of America. “We have been warning him to stop his propaganda against us in the foreign media,” said a TTP spokesman. “He did not include our version in his stories.” The spokesman warned there were several more journalists on their hit-list.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 895 journalists have been killed since the group began counting journalist deaths in 1992. In 2011, 46 journalists were killed, including the well-publicized deaths of two of the West’s most talented war photographers, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed while covering the uprising in Libya. But amidst the barrage of deaths occurring each day across the world’s hot spots, many journalist deaths go unnoticed. Here are some of the more haunting ones from 2011…

Rafiq Tagi, freelance journalist in Azerbaijan – On November 19 Tagi was returning to his home in Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan, when an unidentified man ran up behind him and without saying anything stabbed him seven times. Tagi underwent surgery for a damaged spleen but was recovering well and in stable condition when on November 21 he suddenly died. He was 61. Just ten minutes before his death doctors had checked on him and found him to be fine. His colleagues suspect foul play. In May 2007, he was convicted of inciting religious hatred and sentenced to three years in prison in connection with an article he published in an independent Azerbaijani newspaper. It stated that Islam was hampering the country’s economic and political progress. Last October, he published an article criticizing Iranian authorities for their theologically based policies and suppression of human rights. The Iranian embassy in Azerbaijan denied involvement in Tagi’s death. But the Iranian cleric, Mohammed Fazel Lankarani, published a statement saying that Tagi had received a “just sentence”.

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Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, social media user in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico – Castro’s headless body was found along a road near Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican city on the Texas border and drug trafficking hot spot. She worked at a local newspaper there but also posted details about drug trafficker movements and drug gang lookout locations to Twitter and a social media website called “Nuevo Laredo en vivo”, using the pseudonym, “La NenaDLaredo” (The girl from Laredo). Her severed head was found on a large stone piling, with a note beside it that read: “Nuevo Laredo en Vivo and social networking sites, I’m The Laredo Girl, and I’m here because of my reports…” It is uncertain how her killers discovered her identity. According to CPJ, it is the first time a journalist has been killed directly because of something published to a social media site. She was 39.

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Hadi al-Mahdi, Iraqi radio hostAl-Mahdi was shot in his Baghdad home by an assailant using a pistol with a silencer. He had spent 18 years in exile and returned to Iraq in 2008, to live with his wife and three children. He hosted the show, “To Whomever Listens”, which aired on independent Radio Demozy. The show covered social and political issues and he often criticized politicians, including the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, and the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Mahdi regularly organized pro-democracy demonstrations via Facebook and publicized threats that he received. During Arab Spring protests Al-Mahdi and four other journalists were picked up by security forces and driven to the headquarters of the Iraqi Army’s 11th Division, according to a Washington Post article. There they were beaten, given electric shocks and threatened with rape, then asked to sign a statement saying they were not tortured.

Growing fearful of his safety, about two months ago Al-Mahdi stopped his radio show. He told a friend that he believed Prime Minister Maliki had assigned mercenaries to stab him on the street. The week he was killed he had been preparing for a pro-democracy protest in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. “I will take part in the demonstrations,” he wrote, in a post on his Facebook page left just hours before he was killed. “The political process embodies a national, economic, and political failure. It deserves to change, and we deserve a better government. In short, I do not represent any political party or any other side, but rather the miserable reality in which we live.”

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