The number of journalists killed last year in the line of duty rose by 17 to stand at 65 compared to 2019’s 49, bringing further to the fore questions about the safety of media professionals as well as the right of the public to access information, and Press Freedom.
The risks media workers are exposed to in pursuit of information are not only posed by rogue governments and other political actors, the latest report by the International Federation of Journalists trains the searchlight on criminal gangs – such as merchants in criminal economies – that are now seen as the greatest threat to right to information and Press Freedom.
IFJ says at least 229 journalists were in prison across the world as of March 2021 because of their work. The federation said Turkey is “the biggest jailer of journalists in the world” — with at least 67 media workers in its cells. That was followed by 23 journalists detained in China, 20 in Egypt, 16 in Eritrea and 14 in Saudi Arabia.
Other than political actors, in countries such as Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, perpetrators of criminal economies have been at the centre of atrocities against the media, says the report released on Friday (March 12, 2021).
In Mexico, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, drug peddlers account for a sizeable fraction of the deaths, while in Somalia the state and underworld involved in piracy are cited for the continued wave of violence targeting the media.
In the 30th edition of the annual report on the atrocities by state and non-state actors against journalists, the International Federation of Journalists says the “figures published by the Federation for this year show that the number of media professionals’ killings are more or less on the same levels as in 1990s.”
The report on journalists and media staff killed in work-related incidents around the world during 2020 details the circumstances of the 65 killings that occurred during targeted attacks, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents in 16 countries.
As was the case last year, Mexico topped the list of rogue states with 14 killings, followed by Afghanistan 10, Pakistan 9, India 8, Philippines 4, Syria 4 while Nigeria and Yemen recorded three killings each. There were also two killings in Iraq and Somalia. Finally, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Honduras, Paraguay, Russia and Sweden recorded one killing each, the IFJ report say report.
The report’s 2020 ranking per country has Mexico at the top of the list for the fourth time in five years.
The report cites among the main reasons for the safety crisis in journalism the organised crime groups, extremists and sectarian violence which continue to strike terror among journalists, dozens of whom paid the ultimate price for their independent reporting in the four corners of the world.
‘’In this regard, 2020 was no exception. The ruthless reign of crime barons in Mexico, the violence of extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, as well as the intolerance of hardliners in India and the Philippines have contributed to the continued bloodshed in the media”, said IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger.
In 2019 49 journalists were killed. This year’s 65 deaths of journalists raised the tally to 2680 journalists and media workers who lost their lives to violence in the world since 1990, when the IFJ started publishing these annual reports to highlight the deepening safety crisis in the media.
‘’The thoughts of the IFJ and the 600.000 members of its affiliated unions go to all those victims, their families, friends and all those who are jailed, subjected to violence and harassed both physically and online,’’ says Bellanger.
The report also underscores IFJ’s commitment to pursuing its campaign against impunity by pressing governments on the need to live up to their responsibilities by investigating the murders of journalists, including through the adoption of an International Convention for the Protection and the Security of Journalists by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
For the first time, the report features a list of journalists currently behind bars for their reporting. According to IFJ records, the number of journalists in prison totals at least 229 as of March 2021.
‘’No democracy worthy of that name can jail messengers of freedom of expression. Every day, the IFJ works actively on the ground for the immediate and unconditional release of colleagues who are unjustly imprisoned,” adds Bellanger.
The report will be officially launched at an online press conference to be jointly held on Monday (March 15) by the International Federation of Journalists and Fight Impunity, a Brussels-based organisation which advocates for justice to journalists.
‘’No democracy worthy of that name can jail messengers of freedom of expression,” Bellanger said.
Among those currently jailed is Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw, arrested in Myanmar while covering demonstrations against the military’s seizure of power. A court in Myanmar on Friday extended his pre-trial detention period.
Thein Zaw, 32, and at least six other members of the media have been charged with violating a public order law, according to his lawyer and the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The association says 38 journalists have been detained since Myanmar’s military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, and 19 are still incarcerated.
- A Tell report/jk