The number of journalists killed for their profession in 2019 was the lowest in 16 years but their murders in countries at peace still continues to remain as high as previous years, according to Reporters Without Borders’ annual report.
A total of 49 journalists were killed this year while another 389 are in prison and 57 are held hostage, the worldwide round-up report of journalists held hostage or missing in 2019 said.
RSF pointed out that the number of murdered journalists in 2019 was lower compared with the average in recent decades and attributed this to a trend, “which above all is due to a fall in the number of journalists killed in armed conflicts”.
However, the number of deaths in countries not at war is much the same as in previous years. In Mexico 10 journalists were killed this year – the exact same number as last year. But the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan were much less deadly for journalists than in previous years.
The sharp fall in the number of journalists killed in 2019 – a decrease of 44% when compared to 2018 – is seen in all categories: 36 professional journalists (instead of 66 in 2018), 10 non-professional journalists (instead of 13 in 2018) and 3 media workers (instead of 5 in 2018).
For the first time, no journalist was killed while reporting abroad – all victims were killed in their own country, the report said.
These figures include professional journalists, non-professional journalists and media workers. Compiled by RSF every year since 1995, the annual round-up of abusive treatment and deadly violence against journalists is based on data gathered throughout the year and makes a distinction between journalists who were specifically targeted because of their work and those who were killed in the field.
A total of 17 journalists were killed while covering conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan in 2019 – compared with 34 in 2018.
Latin America was highlighted as an “especially unstable and dangerous region for the media”. A total of 14 journalists were killed in 2019 (ten in Mexico, two in Honduras, one in Colombia and one in Haiti). “Latin America has become as deadly for journalists as the Middle East with all its internal conflicts”. The report goes on to point out that “the gravity of the situation may be worse than these figures suggest” because another eight journalists were murdered in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Haiti in 2019 but their cases are still being verified. The slowness and failings of the judicial systems in these countries makes it harder to establish the facts of these murders.
“The frontier between countries at war and countries at peace is in the process of disappearing for journalists,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We welcome the unprecedented fall in the number of journalists killed in war zones but, at the same time, more and more journalists are being deliberately murdered in connection with their work in democratic countries, which poses a real challenge for the democracies where these journalists live and work.”
The report also highlighted another worrying increase in figures of journalists who were arbitrarily detained. Worldwide, there are a total of 389 journalists currently in prison in connection with their work – a 12% increase more over 2018. Nearly half of these journalists are being held by three countries: China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In an effort to obtain the release of the at least 30 detained Saudi journalists, Deloire led an RSF delegation on an unprecedented visit to Saudi Arabia in April and held direct talks with government officials about ending their arbitrary detention while maintaining pressure on the Saudi regime. To mark the first anniversary of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, RSF staged protests in Berlin, Madrid and Washington with dozens of dismembered shop window models left outside the Saudi consulate in Paris.
Aside from its role of providing assistance to journalists, media outlets and local NGOs in terms of protection, legal aid and capacity building, RSF also seeks justice for murdered journalists. In Malta, two years after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, RSF renewed its calls for justice and stressed the need for concrete action to address the decline in the press freedom.
In Mexico, where the rate of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists exceeds 90%, RSF referred cases of impunity for murders and disappearances of journalists from 2006 to 2016 to the International Criminal Court.