Two journalists working for the ‘Sunday World’ newspaper were contacted by police on Sunday about “imminent threats” of attack by loyalist paramilitaries, including the West Belfast Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group.
A NUJ member was contacted in the middle of the night by the police and alerted to a threat. Another NUJ member has been issued with a shoot to kill threat and is also at risk of entrapment and attack. The two journalists have been named in various threatening social media posts and were threatened previously.
Those involved in issuing the threats against journalists have carried out recent acts of serious violence. One of the latest includes a threat against a journalist working for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ a few days ago and involves the breakaway South East Antrim UDA.
Violence and threats against journalists in Northern Ireland have grown in the last years. Just last year, reporter Lyra McKee was shot to death during police searches in Londonderry in April. The New Irish Republican Army (New IRA) acknowledged its responsibility for the killing. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the level of violence against journalists in the region.
Furthermore, journalist Martin O’Hagan, also from Sunday World, was killed by the Loyalist Volunteer Force paramilitaries in September 2001, while he was walking home with his wife in Lurgan, a town located in County Armagh. To this day, no one has been convicted for this crime.
Seamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary, said: "Once again NUJ members have received serious threats from loyalist paramilitaries and criminal’s intent on silencing journalism in Northern Ireland. These attempts to intimidate journalists must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We welcome the fact that the journalists concerned have received the full support of their employer. The protection of journalists and the active pursuit of those who threaten the media is essential to a functioning democratic society. The PSNI is fully engaged with both journalists and we hope that every effort will be made to ensure the continued safety of our members, their families and their colleagues."
Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said: “We condemn these attacks which seek to suppress independent reporting in a democracy. We express our solidarity with the ‘Sunday World’ reporters and all the journalists who are suffering sickening threats for simply doing their job in Northern Ireland. Those responsible for these threats must be identified and held to account in the interest of press freedom".