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Danger to journalists is growing worldwide, press freedom group says

Reporters Without Borders demonstration. (Reporters Without Borders/Released)

Jamal Khashoggi was one among many.

The Saudi opinion writer’s killing inside a diplomatic outpost may have been the year’s highest-profile fatal attack on a journalist. But in a report released Tuesday, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders cited the slayings of dozens of people working in the media worldwide in 2018.

The group said at least 63 professional journalists were killed around the world in 2018, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. That tally increases to 80 when it includes media workers and citizen journalists, according to an annual compilation that the Paris-based nonprofit organization has put together every year since 1995.

Attacks against journalists — in the form of deaths, imprisonment or disappearances — have “risen in all categories,” said the group, which also goes by its French acronym RSF. In addition to those killed, it found that 348 journalists were being detained by authorities and 60 others held captive by non-state groups around the globe.

Seeking to put the threat in context, the report decried more and more vociferous verbal attacks on the profession by public figures, and noted the role of social media in amplifying such incitement.

“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” said RSF’s secretary-general, Christophe Deloire.

“The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” Deloire said.

Six in 10 of those journalists who died worldwide were deliberately targeted for their reporting, according to the group’s findings. This year marked a contrast to the previous three years, during which the number of journalists in all categories killed in connection with their work had declined, RSF said.

For the first time, the United States in 2018 joined the group’s list of the five deadliest countries for journalists, due in large measure to the June attack that killed five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. Afghanistan topped the list of deadliest countries, followed by Syria, Mexico and Yemen, the group said. The U.S. tied with India for fifth place.

Echoing its findings from 2017, RSF said five countries emerged as the biggest jailers of journalists: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.

The report singled out high-profile cases including the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi national and Virginia resident who wrote columns for The Washington Post. He was strangled and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2 when he went there to obtain paperwork he needed to get married.

The Khashoggi affair has roiled U.S.-Saudi relations and galvanized a confrontation between President Donald Trump and U.S. lawmakers over the president’s reluctance to condemn Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

This week, the Saudis denounced the Senate’s casting blame on Prince Mohammed, warning in an unusually strong statement against interference in the kingdom’s internal affairs.

Other notable journalist killings included that of Jan Kuciak, a Slovak investigative reporter who was shot dead in February along with his fiancee. Kuciak was investigating potential links between organized crime and government officials.

But many other such deaths, jailings or disappearances go largely unnoticed by the outside world, the report noted.

The group cited the lengths to which authorities would go to silence voices like those of Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone in Myanmar, who were sentenced this year to seven years in prison after investigating violence against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

The alarm raised by RSF has been sounded by other press freedom groups as well. In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that at that point in 2018, at least 43 journalists had been killed around the world as a result of their work, and cited 17 other cases in which the motive had not been confirmed.

RSF’s Press Freedom Index this year downgraded the United States by two places in its global standings, to 45th place, at least in part because of Trump’s frequent depiction of the news media as the “enemy of the people.”

Against the backdrop of worldwide attacks on “fake news” — a term that gained currency, especially among authoritarian leaders, after Trump popularized it — Time magazine this month designated journalists it called “the Guardians” as its Person of the Year for 2018.

The magazine commemorated four individuals and a group — all of which were cited in the RSF report — whose work was praised for exposing “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world.


© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.