At least 50 journalists and media workers have been killed worldwide this year, the vast majority outside countries at war, according to an annual round-up by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The review shows that journalists are increasingly being targeted and killed because of their work. Some 84% of journalists killed this year were deliberately targeted, up from 63% in 2019.
This year’s data covers January 1 to December 15.
Journalists publishing investigative stories were particularly vulnerable to attacks.
Ten journalists were killed after publishing investigations into cases of local corruption or misuse of public funds and four were killed for their stories on organized crime. Meanwhile, in what RSF noted as a new trend in 2020, seven journalists were killed while covering protests.
The overall number of killings is down from 53 in 2019, with fewer journalists in the field this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the report notes a worrying increase in the killings of media workers in countries considered to be “at peace.” In 2020, 68% of journalists killed were working in countries that were not at war. That’s up from 62% in 2019, and 60% in 2018.
“Some may think that journalists are just the victims of the risks of their profession, but journalists are increasingly targeted when they investigate or cover sensitive subjects. What is being attacked is the right to be informed, which is everyone’s right,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of RSF, said in a statement.
The deadliest countries
Mexico was the deadliest nation for journalists in 2020, with eight reporters killed. The country has seen an average of eight to 10 journalists killed each year for the past five years, the report added.
“The links between drug traffickers and politicians remain, and journalists who dare to cover these or related issues continue to be the targets of barbaric murders,” the report said.
Such gruesome murders detailed in the report include Julio Valdivia Rodríguez, a reporter for the daily El Mundo, whose body was found decapitated in the state of Veracruz. The body of Víctor Fernando Álvarez Chávez, the editor of the local news website Punto x Punto Noticias, was cut to pieces in the coastal city of Acapulco.
Iraq was the second-deadliest country, with six deaths, followed by Afghanistan, with five. India and Pakistan were an equal fourth, each reporting the deaths of four journalists.
RSF’s round-up comes days after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported 2020 to be the worst year on record for the imprisonment of journalists. Globally, at least 274 journalists were jailed, up from the previous record of 272 in 2016, CPJ reported.
The uptick was largely to do with authoritarian nations arresting reporters covering the pandemic and political instability. The number of reporters being jailed on accusations of reporting “false news” is slowly increasing, and 2020 is the fifth consecutive year that repressive governments have imprisoned at least 250 journalists, CPJ reported.
Zhang Zhan, the independent Chinese journalist who reported from Wuhan at the height of the initial coronavirus outbreak, was jailed for four years by a Shanghai court, her lawyer said Monday.
She was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to one of her defense lawyers, Zhang Keke. The offense is commonly used by the Chinese government to target dissidents and human rights activists.
In Ethiopia, a Reuters cameraman, Kumerra Gemechu, was detained without charge on December 24 and will be kept in detention for at least two weeks, Reuters reported.
The Ethiopian government has clamped down on press freedom and endorsed a communications blackout as conflict in the Tigray region escalates.