28 September 2021
Twenty years ago today, Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan was shot dead in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. To this day, no one has been held to account for his brutal murder. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) stand in solidarity with the O’Hagan family, colleagues and friends as we call for justice in his case.
On 28 September 2001, O’Hagan was shot several times from a passing car while walking home from a local pub with his wife, who was not hurt in the attack. As a reporter, O’Hagan specialised in stories about drug gangs and paramilitary organisations. O’Hagan had been a member of the Official IRA and served five years in prison for firearms offences, having been released in 1978, before going into journalism. Over the years, he had repeatedly been threatened by both republican and loyalist groups as a result of his journalistic work, including being kidnapped by the Provisional IRA, who unsuccessfully attempted to force him to divulge his sources.
It has long been suspected that O’Hagan’s killing was ordered by paid police informants linked to the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). O’Hagan’s colleagues believed he was targeted for exposing the LVF’s involvement in assassinations, racketeering and drug trafficking. The Red Hand Defenders, which police consider to be an operational name for militants from the LVF and the Ulster Defence Association, later claimed responsibility for the murder.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ), of which O’Hagan was a member, has been leading the call for a panel of international experts to be convened to investigate the unsolved murder and the subsequent police failings. Amidst growing worries about the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland, the MFRR shares the deep concern over the failure to hold those responsible to account and the implications of this enduring legacy of impunity, and supports the NUJ in their campaign for justice for Martin O’Hagan. It is long overdue.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
This statement was written by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by a consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) including ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission.