Fifty journalists and media workers were killed in connection with their work in 2020, the majority in countries that are not at war, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.
The total number of journalists killed in 2020 was slightly lower than the 53 reported in 2019, although RSF said fewer journalists worked in the field this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s grim toll shows an increase in the targeting of reporters investigating organised crime, corruption or environmental issues, the watchdog said.
Eighty-four percent of those killed this year were “deliberately targeted” for their work, RSF said in its annual report, compared with 63 percent in 2019.
“For several years now, Reporters Without Borders has noted that investigative journalists are really in the crosshairs of states, or cartels,” said Pauline Ades-Mevel, RSF editor-in-chief.
Mexico was the deadliest country, followed by Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
“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,” said the report.
None of the Mexico killings had yet been punished, added RSF, which has compiled annual data on violence against journalists around the globe since 1995.
Five journalists were killed in war-torn Afghanistan, it said, noting an increase in targeted attacks on media workers in recent months even as peace talks between the government and Taliban are ongoing.
RSF also highlighted the case of Iranian opposition figure Ruhollah Zam, who ran a popular social media channel that rallied opponents, and who was executed in December.
His execution “confirms Iran’s record as a country that has officially put the most journalists to death in the past half-century,” it said.
Ades-Mevel said RSF had also noted the “developing” trend of violence against media workers covering protests, notably in the United States during protests against the killing of George Floyd, and in France during protests against a controversial new security law.
In the first part of the report, published this month, RSF said it was concerned that measures imposed by governments to fight the pandemic had contributed to a “significant peak in violations of press freedom”.
It listed 387 jailed journalists, which it called “a historically high number”.
🔴 #2020RsfRoudnUp: 50 journalists killed, 2/3 in countries “at peace”.
The most dangerous stories are investigations into cases of corruption/misuse of public funds – organised crime. In a new development, 7 journalists were killed while covering protestshttps://t.co/0LUhik7hE0 pic.twitter.com/gA01p4kDuN
— RSF (@RSF_inter) December 29, 2020
Fourteen of those had been arrested in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, it said.
On Monday, Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who sent dispatches from Wuhan during the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, was jailed for four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Chinese authorities have punished eight virus whistle-blowers so far as they curb criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been held without charge by Egyptian authorities for four years.
In addition, hundreds of journalists worldwide died from COVID-19, but how many of them were infected as a result of their work cannot be determined, RSF said.
The coronavirus and a lack of medical care killed at least three journalists after they were believed to have contracted it in prisons in Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia.