Unprecedented Fall in the Number of Journalists Killed in 2019

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued their annual global round-up of deadly violence and abusive treatment against journalists on December 17, reporting that a total of 49 journalists having been killed this year, with 389 being currently in prison and 57 being held hostage.

Putting Violence Against Journalists In Context

Compiled on an annual basis since 1995, the round-up is based on detailed information and reaffirms “with certainty or a great deal of confidence that the death, detention, abduction or disappearance of each journalist was a direct result of their journalistic work”.

The number of journalists killed during the past twelve months has fallen by 50% compared to an annual average of 80 journalists killed during the last twenty years, mainly the result of fewer media workers dying in war zones.

At the same time, it is noted that journalism remains an extremely dangerous occupation. Out of the 49 journalists killed while practicing their profession around the world in 2019 (46 men, 3 women), 36 were professional journalists, 10 non-professionals and 3 media associates.

The Most Deadly Conflicts This Year For Journalists

Covering conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan was two times less deadly for journalists in 2019, with a combined total of 17 journalists killed in these three countries compared to 34 in 2018.

This unprecedented fall in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan must not however hide the fact that the number of journalists killed in countries at peace continues to be as high as in previous years. In Mexico, for example, 10 journalists were killed in 2019, the same number as last year. With a combined total of 14 journalists killed, Latin America is now as deadly for journalists as the Middle East, a region riddled with fratricidal clashes.

As a result of these parallel developments, more journalists (59%) are now being killed in countries at peace than in war zones. There has been a 2% increase in journalists being deliberately murdered or targeted, with 29 of them murdered in countries where peace prevails and more than 60% deliberately targeted. No journalist lost their lives while reporting abroad: all casualties were victims of attacks that took place within a journalist’s own nation.

The Percentage Of Journalists In Jail Has Increased

RSF’s “barometer” also records the number of journalists imprisoned internationally for simply doing their job, which numbered 389 this year (+12% compared to 2018). This increase is even more alarming because it does not include journalists who were arbitrarily recruited and detained for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks.

Almost half of jailed journalists (186 out of 389) are incarcerated in only three countries: China (120, almost one-third), Egypt (34) and Saudi Arabia (32). In the cases of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, most prisoners have not even been officially charged. In China, many detainees are minority Uyghurs and many others are citizen journalists who have tried to oppose the government’s censorship over the Internet. In Turkey, many imprisoned journalists were released, only to be re-arrested at some later point. According to the report, at least 57 journalists are being held hostage internationally, a number almost unchanged compared to 2018. Hostages are concentrated this year in the same four countries: Syria (30), Yemen (15), Iraq (11) and Ukraine (1).

As 2019 draws to a close, continuing demonstrations and protest movements have emerged more or less everywhere in the world, especially in Algeria, Hong Kong, Chile and Bolivia. This has contributed to a proliferation of attacks against journalists and brings up serious concerns about the uncertain conditions and protections in place for media professionals worldwide.