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Journalists killed in retaliation for their reporting doubles in 2020, new report says

A photojournalist in a gas mask on Mansour Street during protests near the Ministry of Interior in central Cairo in February 2012. (Alisdare Hickson/Flickr)
December 28, 2020

The number of journalists killed in retaliation for their reporting more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based press freedom watchdog organization.

In total, CPJ recorded at least 31 journalists killed in the line of their work in 2020, with 21 killed as a reprisal for their reporting activity, more than double the 10 killed in 2019. Three journalists were caught and killed in a crossfire while reporting from warzones in 2020 and six were killed as a hazard of a dangerous assignment.

CPJ said it was also investigating the deaths of 15 more journalists worldwide to determine whether reprisal for their reporting was a motive that led to their deaths.

Afghanistan and Mexico were the deadliest countries for journalists reporting in 2020. Five journalists were the victims of targeted killings in Afghanistan, according to a CPJ datasheet.

Four more journalists were the victims of targeted killings in Mexico and a fifth journalist in Mexico died as a result of hazards from a dangerous assignment. Two journalists killed in Mexico were enrolled in the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, a government program that assigns bodyguards and other safety measures to journalists under threat for their work. In both cases, the journalists’ assigned bodyguards were also killed.

“It’s appalling that the murders of journalists have more than doubled in the last year, and this escalation represents a failure of the international community to confront the scourge of impunity,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Criminal groups were the most often suspected groups behind the killings of journalists, according to CPJ, though in nine cases, government or military officials were believed responsible for a journalist’s death in 2020. One particular case CPJ noted was the Dec. 12 execution of Roohallah Zam, who was jailed in Iran on Dec. 1 over his reporting of 2017 anti-government protests.

“It is outrageous that Roohollah Zam appears in CPJ’s census of journalists imprisoned around the world and also the list of those killed in the same year,” Simon added. “His inclusion on both lists is testament to the abject cruelty of the Iranian regime, which cloaks itself in the veneer of legality. Zam’s killing is nothing but state-sponsored murder.”

The CPJ also recently published a report totaling the number of journalists imprisoned around the world in 2020. The 2020 report found the highest-ever number of journalists imprisoned since CPJ began recording that information in 1992.

In total, there were 274 journalists imprisoned in 2020. China led that count of imprisoned journalists for the second year in a row, with 47 journalists imprisoned.