UNITED NATIONS - Two UN human rights experts Thursday urged greater protection for media professionals, citing the unacceptably high number of attacks against those disseminating news, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, to sexual violence against female journalists.

“Attacks against journalists are attacks against democracy,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, in a joint statement.

Presenting their respective reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the experts urged governments, the international community, as well as journalists and media organizations, to act decisively to protect the lives of journalists and media freedom. La Rue cited in particular “the continuing repression of journalists and media freedom worldwide, aimed at suppressing information deemed ‘inconvenient,’ and increasing restrictions placed on journalists who disseminate information through the Internet.”

“States continue to utilize criminal laws on defamation, national security and counterterrorism to suppress dissent and criticism, including on Government policies, human rights violations and allegations of corruption,” he noted, adding that, “such ‘judicial harassment’ generates a climate of fear and encourages self-censorship.”

Heyns underscored that impunity is “a major, if not the main, cause” of the high number of journalists killed every year. “The countries where the highest numbers of journalists are killed are also, almost without exception, those with the highest levels of impunity,” he said.

“It is hard to imagine a world without journalists. Without their work, humanity would be reduced to silence, and yet a large number are killed every year with almost total impunity,” he added, noting that journalists are among the persons who receive the most death threats.

The two experts put forward specific recommendations in their reports dealing with material, legal, and policing measures of protection, ranging from public condemnation of attacks against journalists, support for press freedom by senior government officials and greater accountability to fight impunity.