In various parts of the world, journalists who reveal the veil of the mining industry are experiencing silence. Jagendra Singh, the Indian journalist who wrote about the alleged involvement of local officials in the sand mining business, died of burns on nearly half of his body in 2015. In Guatemala, Calos Choc criminalized after documenting the killings of the fishermen who did protests against water pollution in 2017. Meanwhile, in the Great Lakes Region, Tanzania, at least a dozen reporters have come under threats while investigating allegations violations of human rights in gold mining.
The investigations they are carrying out do not necessarily stop. As many as 40 journalists from 15 countries collaborated to continue it. Led by Forbidden Stories, a non-profit consortium based in Paris, France, this collaborative project was named Green Blood.
Forbidden Stories was founded by several investigative journalists at 2017. They believe that unity is a power when covering sensitive issues such as corruption, environmental crimes and human rights violations.
"As a group, we can send a strong message to the enemy of the press: you can stop the messengers, but not the message," said Executive Director and founder of Forbidden Stories, Laurent Richard.
The work on Green Blood took more than eight months. The result is an investigative series from 30 media outlets published in July 2019. French TV, One of the media that joined in this project, broadcast it in the form of serial documentation.
Post-publication, several technology companies such as Canon, Apple, and Nokia are evaluating business agreements them with the Tanzanian gold mining company. Other than that, the high court in Guatemala also ordered the termination of the license of a ferronickel mining company.
Forbidden Stories Project Manager, Jules Giraudat, said coordination was the key to cross-border investigations with high impact such as Green Blood.
The meeting was first held in Paris. At that time, journalists were trained to use a secure intranet system to share information. By using a named collaborative software Confluence, a node is created to share pages, blog uploads, meeting notes, and files securely. The tool also creates space for each member to work personally and protects access to the entire space with a password.
After that, the journalists grouped themselves into three teams, each of which worked on issues in one country. Several journalists from the same newspaper were divided into three teams. In this way, they identify the stories to pursue and take into account possible new discoveries, potential collaboration with people working in the field, and geographic reach.
"We chose stories from three different continents to show that it (environmental crime-ed) really is a global problem," Giraudat told GIJN.
The division of tasks is carried out in each team. Some journalists focus on research, while others plan coverage. The researchers combined tools for social media analysis, flight tracking, video forensics and advanced Internet searches. The field team builds a network by meeting secret sources, using environmental censorship, and checking public documents and company documents.
Tracing Tanzania Gold
Tracing a mine's supply chain to buyers is difficult work for an investigative journalist. For reasons of transparency, many companies (including technology giants in the United States) convey to the public the location of their processing plants. However, mining locations that supply raw materials are often not conveyed. This is at the heart of the Green Blood story.
One of the gold mines whose secrets Green Blood is about to dismantle is located in North Mara, Tanzania. Several journalists, both local and international, were threatened, censored and detained in the area by the Tanzanian authorities while carrying out investigations into alleged human rights violations.
As part of the Green Blood project, several media outlets were included The Guardian, collect testimony from the victims who was silenced for years.
Another team is trying to track down the company using the "bloody gold" from North Mara. Open source tools (open source) is used as a prefix. Some of these include Google's advanced search, which is used to find court documents and internal presentations on supply chains; flight trackers to provide guidance on the destination for delivery of gold; and self-analysis of the gold mining company's PR social media accounts that provide clues to the identity of the aircraft.
This valuable information is then cross-checked against various findings in the field. Several search attempts were misguided until a source gave directions that the search was focused on a processing plant in India which is part of an international trade and industry group.
The finding that gold mining from Tanzania supplied raw materials to be processed in India was tried to be confirmed by the parties concerned. When the company responded to the email and confirmed its connection to the mining, they issued a statement publicly that the company would ", Terminate (the mining company) ... if we identify a risk that they are committing human rights violations."
The confirmation also confirmed the links between gold processing companies and several giant technology companies. Industrial supply chains are reviewed by companies. At the same time, the Tanzanian government imposes sanctions against the mining company.
Pollution and protesters in Guatemala
An international mining company acquired a nickel mine in eastern Guatemala in 2011. The mine is operated by a local subsidiary and sells nickel and iron alloys to international manufacturers.
Maya Q'eqchi, an indigenous group who inhabit the area around the mine, said that the mining company had cleared the forest area and polluted the lake. Local residents said that they saw orange dust spreading in the sky.
On 27 May 2017, angry protesters threw stones at police. At the same time, a fisherman named Carlos Maaz was shot to death. The Guatemalan government denies any casualties despite Carlos Chos, a local media journalist Prensa Comunitaria, immortalize Maaz's lifeless body with the camera.
The journalists then broadcast the incident from the scene. This was responded with threats. The police are trying to carry out an investigation against Carlos Choc who was accused of a criminal act.
Two months before the shooting incident, Choc's house was also burglarized and several of his work tools were stolen. He believes this is an attempt at intimidation.
The Green Blood Project, in collaboration with Choc, reports that authorities in Guatemala have lied many times about the deaths of fishermen during demonstrations. Photos and videos taken by Choc served as key evidence to identify the officer who opened fire.
The videos and photos taken at the time of the incident provide some clues. The uniform used indicates that the police shooting was from a certain unit; badge identifying the rank of the policeman; Meanwhile, a more detailed observation in one of the pictures shows that an officer pointed a gun directly at the fisherman. This contradicts the authorities' claim that no police officers carried weapons while handling demonstrations.
With the help of Youri ban der Weide, an investigator who is adept at using open source tools, they put together various pieces of evidence about the seconds when Carlos Maaz was killed. In the published documentary series, it is seen how the authorities deny the murder accusation even though they have been confronted with various visual evidence.
In the documentary series, the team found that the police were proven to have committed violations when the incident occurred. Although ha; This is clearly visible in the image evidence obtained, but the police still deny all allegations.
Journalists also verify local community complaints regarding environmental damage. They test the air quality around the mine pits using environmental sensors that show the level of air pollution. Some of the parameters measured are even six times higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization.
After the investigation, Guatemala's Constitutional Court ordered the cessation of all mining operations in the region. The mining company continues to deny that it has done environmental damage filed a libel suit against Le Monde, one of the media that participated in Green Blood.
Investigation of the "Sand Mafia" in India
In India, “sand mafia” refers to a collection of individuals, organizations and criminal gangs who seek to profit from illegal sand mining for industrial construction. Sand mining is big business in the country. High demand for sand makes coastal cities even more vulnerable to erosion and sea level rise. Several civil society groups and journalists trying to expose the unsavory practices of the sand mining industry face a series of threats.
Jagendra Singh, an investigative journalist working for the Hindi language media, has written several articles about the involvement of senior ministers in the Uttar Pradesh region in the sand mining business. In a video message recorded after he was taken to hospital with severe burns in June 2015, Singh claims that the minister's supporters tried to kill him. Despite undergoing treatment, Singh's life is not saved. He died of severe burns.
The incident was considered a suicide, even though Singh's confession was broadcast in the video. On the day of the funeral, the Singh family filed a lawsuit over the conspiracy to murder. Later, the charges were dropped.
The Forbidden Stories team collaborated with Sandhya Ravishankar, one of the few journalists who still dared to cover the “sand mafia”. They investigate possible links between the minister, his supporters and Singh's murder.
The key to this investigation is to build trust between the team and the Singh family.
"We thought, if we saw our faces, the Singh family would open up," Ravishankar told GIJN.
The move went smoothly. Convinced by the protection of international journalists, the Singh family then dared to open their mouths and say they were encouraged to accept three million rupees, or the equivalent of Rp. 604 million provided they drop the charges.
Since there was no black-and-white evidence of the transaction, the team tried to gather more testimony.
Using hidden cameras, journalists documented encounters with a friend of Singh's female friends who witnessed the attack firsthand. He had made a statement regarding the incident, but later retracted it too.
When approached by the journalist, the woman called a person whom she described as "older brother". Shortly after that, Ravishankar said he received a phone call from a politician asking about the purpose of the visit.
Ravishankar also met officers at the local police station whose members failed to provide the First Information Report, the initial document on a case. In fact, these documents are usually given when there is a request.
The minister, whose spokesman declined a request for confirmation, recently lost his seat in parliament and retired from politics.
As the dunes descend, sea water reaches further into mainland India. Ravishankar said ", Sand will become scarce just like water," and the joint efforts of journalists have been successful in raising awareness about the problem in India. This, according to him, gave him more space when he did coverage.
"I feel much safer now," he said.
The coverage of the sand mafia, Ravishankar admitted, made him anxious. However, now he believes that if something bad happens to him, other journalists from around the world will not stay silent and start making their voices.
Federica Marsi is a freelance journalist covering human rights and environmental issues. The coverage was published by Al Jazeera, Vice UK, Open Democracy, The Middle East Magazine, and Wired.
This paper was first published by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and is reviewed Investigation Keeps Work of Silenced Journalists Alive. Distribution of this paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. Jaring collaborates with GIJN to translate and publish regularly GIJN articles for capacity building of journalism in Indonesia.