NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley :
“Our member noticed that he was being followed by one of the group, who took his photograph. Two men followed him down the street and referred in a threatening manner to his association with the Irish News. They told him they knew which gym he went to, accused him of working for Sinn Féin, being a dissident and subjected him to sectarian abuse. The behaviour was deeply disturbing. For a freelance photographer to be attacked in this way is unacceptable”.
This is nothing new. There has been a history of threats against, and intimidation of, journalists by the various groups of loyalist paramilitaries over the years.
Many journalists who were involved in covering the Troubles received death threats and one was even murdered, Martin O’Hagan was not the first journalist to be killed in the 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland but he was the first journalist to be targeted and killed for his work.
Here are some examples of Loyalist attacks, threats and intimidation
1984. Jim Campbell, Sunday World northern editor, was seriously wounded when he was shot at his home by the Ulster Volunteer Force after revealing details about one of its north Armagh assassins. He had been writing about a UVF man shortly to be released from prison.
Jim McDowell was told by police that he and his family were in danger
August 2012: Loyalist paramilitaries the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) issued a death threat against a Belfast-based journalist.
Graffiti daubed on a wall included the journalist’s name and mobile telephone number, the alleged threat had been made by telephone on Saturday evening
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said
The UDA said it “categorically denied any threats inferred or otherwise directed towards a journalist“.
January 2013: during the violent loyalist protests about the union flag being removed from Belfast city hall, police intercepted a letter containing a bullet that was addressed to a reporter.
NUJ president said “the letter was the latest in a series of despicable attempts to intimidate journalists in Northern Ireland”
May 2013: Two journalists in Northern Ireland received death threats from loyalist paramilitaries.
27 February 2014: Irish News reporter Allison Morris had to be escorted from Belfast magistrate’s court having been abused by protestors present for the trial of a man accused of assaulting two police officers.Allison Morris was called a “Fenian bastard” and a “Feniain c**t” by a gang who also threatened to cut her throat.During the hearing a protestor made intimidating gestures towards the journalist and approached her in an intimidatory manner during an interval.
Query: Why do Loyalists issue threats? What do journalists do or find out to get them that annoyed?
Reply: Journalists are so often targeted because the way the news is reported matters. An effective way of ensuring that reporters don’t damage your interests is to harass, attack, intimidate, kidnap, imprison or kill them.
28 September 2001:LVF Murder Martin O’Hagan, Journalist
Just before his death Mr O’Hagan expressed fears he was under surveillance by this illegal organisation. A week before his death he was threatened by a loyalist fanatic He was told ‘we have you clocked walking up and down this street‘.The LVF
had harboured a grudge against Mr O’Hagan, former internee, for years because he had exposed how they combined a campaign of nakedly sectarian assassinations against Catholics with a large illegal drugs distribution network.
Mr O’Hagan was shot dead in front of his wife, Marie, after an evening out at a pub in Lurgan, Co Armagh. An LVF sympathiser had spotted O’Hagan at the bar and notified contacts in the terror group. The couple were ambushed as they walked home and O’Hagan was shot up to seven times while he tried to shield his wife from the bullets.
He was almost certainly killed because he was investigating collusion between Northern Irish police, military intelligence , armed groups and drug gangs.
The day after the murder, a caller to the BBC claimed responsibility on behalf of the Red hand Defenders,
a name used by Loyalist paramilitary groups, especially the LVF.
The caller said he had been killed for “crimes against the loyalist people“.
Father Brian D’Arcy, a family friend,said
“The reason given for his murder was that he had disturbed too many hornets nests along the way and that he was obviously getting too near the truth.”
His killers have never been brought to justice. In January, 2013 prosecutors dropped plans to use evidence from a loyalist supergrass against alleged LVF members.
The director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC
“The prosecution of any of the accused in this case would depend on the evidence of Neil Hyde. It has been concluded that in the absence of any corroboration, the available evidence is insufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against any individual.”
Query: Why do Loyalists hate the Press?
Reply: Because Loyalists are constantly being investigated for their criminality, links to the security forces and intimidation of Catholics and people of other ethnic origins. The UDA obviously don’t like their continuing existence being brought up seeing as it shows that they are still active in “community development” such as extortion, drug dealing, racketeering and other crime. It’s all about the money now.
The intimidation of journalists in Northern Ireland should be more widely reported and subjected to robust police action. Especially when the people doing the intimidating are paramilitary organizations that supposedly no longer exist or are on “ceasefire”.
Remember: An attack on freedom of expression and a free press is an attack on democracy itself.