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Nicaragua was ruled by the corrupt Somoza family that owned more than half of the country’s land. In the 1970s, the dictatorship was challenged by the Sandinista guerrilla movement, which took its name from the resistance leader, Augusto Cesar Sandino (1895-1934).

Sandino was brutally murdered by the regime after luring him to the palace with the promise of peace negotiations, and the Sandinistas had little prospect of defeating the Somoza troops because of US military aid to Nicaragua.

Then in 1979, a soldier of Somoza’s troops shot an American journalist after ordering him to kneel on the floor and hitting him in the back from close range. Another journalist, who happened to be there, captured the crime on film, which was shown on US television. The public outcry that followed forced the US President to suspend weapons shipments to the Nicaraguan army.

Shortly afterwards, the Somoza dictatorship fell.

This was then – in the troubled 1970s. But one is compelled to believe we’re much worse off now, than we were then.

Last week, an Egyptian judge handed down an unexpectedly harsh verdict in the trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English news channel, sentencing them to three years in prison on charges that legal experts said were unfounded and politically motivated : that they had “broadcast false news” about Egypt on Al Jazeera.

The decision to prosecute the journalists was seen as part of a broader attempt by the military-backed government to stifle the news media and free speech.

Media freedom is increasingly under attack today, with many governments spying on the media, detaining journalists, and demanding that they reveal the identities of confidential sources. This kind of harassment doesn’t just affect “professional” journalists.

The Internet and new technologies have democratized media making, with more people taking up the tools of journalism. And after years of newsroom layoffs, many of the people who are most at risk are independent journalists and ordinary people operating outside the mainstream press.

Closer home, the opponents of free speech and reason have claimed another life. Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi was a scholar, writer and academic, who was widely respected for his fearless opinions based on scholarly research. A former vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi, he was recipient of national sahitya akademi award in 2006 for a collection of his research articles on Kannada folklore, religion and culture.

There is a striking similarity in the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and Kalburgi. All of them wrote and spoke openly against age-old traditions and beliefs and tried to promote scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and reform.

The murder of the trio hints at a wave of intolerance engulfing India. Does this bode well for the country? It is for ordinary Indians to decide.

With more people than ever before engaged in media making, there are also more people who have a stake in defending media freedom.

We can’t afford to give up.

-- Editor

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