IFJ mourns 42 media workers killed in 2020

  • 10 Dec 2020

IFJ publishes annual killed list including numbers in jail globally, with 30 year overview and analysis.

To mark the international day for human rights on Thursday 10 December 2020, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has published a new white paper on global journalism.

The report highlights the 2,658 journalists murdered since 1990, there have been 42 media workers killed so far this year and 235 media workers remain in prison globally. The report also covers issues such as freedom of expression, working conditions, youth and gender equality.

Thirty years – 2,658 journalists killed

When the IFJ published its first annual report of killed journalists in 1990, very few anticipated that the annual global "journalists killed list" would still be going 30 years later.

The IFJ was the first representative organisation to raise the alarm about the killings and the federation continues to document the deaths every year.

Journalists continue to be targeted with impunity in every corner of the world – media workers are brutalized, gunned down and kidnapped by the enemies of press freedom.

The IFJ casualty toll includes the deaths of all media workers – journalists, freelances and support staff such as drivers, fixers and translators – those included on the list have died during newsgathering activities. The IFJ's broader remit of documenting the dead is unique in that it gives a fuller picture of the extent of casualties within the media.

At the time the IFJ started counting in 1990, the federation listed 40 journalists and media workers killed that year. When aggregating all the deaths, the total is 2,658 killed in the last thirty years. This equates to about two journalists or media workers killed every week.

Over 50 per cent of journalists have been killed in the ten most dangerous countries that have suffered from war, crime, corruption and a catastrophic breakdown of law and order.

The ten countries with the highest numbers of journalists killed in the last 30 years include -

  • Iraq (339 killed)
  • Mexico (175)
  • Philippines (159)
  • Pakistan (138)
  • India (116)
  • Russian Federation (110)
  • Algeria (106)
  • Syria (96)
  • Somalia (93)
  • Afghanistan (93)

In Iraq, it was not until 2003, at the onset of the Anglo-American invasion, that the number of media workers killed started to increase. Similarly, in Afghanistan the numbers (93) reflect the aftermath of the US invasion in 2001. The link between deadly conflicts and a spike in the murders of journalists was also apparent in the civil war in Algeria which started in 1993 and ended in 1996. The majority of the 106 killed journalists died in a short period of three years. This was also the case in Syria when the conflict started in 2011, and is still ongoing, resulting in 96 killed journalists over the last nine years.

The insurgency in Somalia has propelled the country to be the most murderous in Africa for journalists. In the Indian sub-continent, two countries have featured almost every year in the killed list since 1990, these are Pakistan (138) and India (116) and together these countries represent 40 per cent of the total number of deaths in the Asia Pacific region. The pattern of killing in Mexico is mainly linked to organised crime and makes the country the most dangerous in Latin America. Mexico has featured on the IFJ list every year and large numbers of journalists have been targeted since the 1970s and 80s. Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist in the world.

The patterns of regional variations across time shows how the killings have evolved according to specific and local variables. Overall the Asia Pacific region comes first with 681 killed journalists, followed by Latin America with 571, the Middle East with 558, Africa with 466 and Europe with 373.

There is no single explanation as to why journalists are targeted, but one of the principal causes has always been war and armed conflicts where journalists who report on them are exposed to injury, kidnapping or worse. In recent years the emergence of new terrorist organisations has also been a factor in the deaths of media workers.

The untold story remains the risk to local journalists

Most of the media workers killed are local reporters whose names do not resonate with the international media. Nearly 75 per cent of journalists killed around the world did not step on a landmine, or get caught in crossfire, or die in a suicide bombing attack. They were murdered – sometimes killed by a gunman escaping on the back of a motorcycle, or they were shot or stabbed to death near their home or office, or they were found dead after they had been abducted and tortured.

The IFJ continues to be at the forefront of exposing the scandal of impunity and the failures of governments to bring the killers to justice.

In no less than 90 per cent of the cases where a journalist is murdered worldwide, there has been little or no prosecution. In two-thirds of the cases, the killers were not identified and probably never will be. This means that it is almost risk-free to kill a journalist – murder has become one of the easiest and cheapest way of silencing the media. Occasionally, a triggerman is identified and brought to trial, but in most cases their paymasters go free.

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:

"These are not just statistics. They our friends and colleagues who have dedicated their lives to, and paid the ultimate price for, their work as journalists.
"We don't just remember them but we will pursue every case, pressing governments and law enforcement authorities to bring their murderers to justice."

The IFJ does work every day to find ways of making journalism safer.

In 2006, an IFJ campaign led to the UN security council adopting resolution 1738 which called on all governments to protect journalists. But the political will is still not there.

Since the UN motion was passed, some 1,492 journalists have been killed.

Younes Mjahed, IFJ president, said:

"The numerous instruments adopted, both at UN and regional level, to reinforce the scope of treaty obligations, some of which address explicitly the issue of impunity, are of course important. But we know their weakness – that most are non-binding and that they operate incrementally. The problem of impunity is indeed well recognised, but the major hindrance for the protection of journalists derives not from the scope of the rights but from implementation deficits."

One of the IFJ's priority campaigns is to end impunity for the crime of killing journalists. The federation in 2018 worked with legal experts to create a new draft UN convention on the safety and independence of journalists. The next steps in the work include getting this convention onto the agenda of the UN general assembly.

In addition to the global advocacy campaign, the IFJ continues to organise training courses in regions most in need; opening up solidarity centres in Algeria, Colombia, the Philippines, Palestine and Sri Lanka, to help monitor the situation and offer assistance. The IFJ also publishes and distributes guidance and specialist advice, and offers cheap insurance for journalists.

Being a representative organisation of trade unions, the IFJ has also been able to engage with media owners, publishers and editors. Urging media outlets to take on responsibility to educate their journalists, carry out proper risk assessments, avoid reckless assignments and take all necessary precautions when they send media workers into dangerous environments. The adoption of an international code of conduct for the safe practice of journalism has been one of the IFJ's initiatives that has helped progress this work.

The IFJ also organises an International Safety Fund, which provides emergency humanitarian assistance to journalists. The fund was launched nearly 30 years ago and it is sustained by the fundraising efforts of trade unions and donations from media workers. The fund has paid over 3 million euros to journalists and their families who have fled threats or been victims of violence.

42 killed journalists in 2020

In 2020, the IFJ has recorded 42 killings of journalists and media staff so far. They have been killed in targeted attacks, bomb blasts and cross-fire incidents in 15 countries.

There were 49 killings in 2019, and although there has been a small decrease in the number of deaths, the IFJ warns against complacency.

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:

"The decrease of journalists' killings in recent years cannot disguise the deadly danger and threats journalists continue to face for doing their work.
"The trends in our publications over the last 30 years make it clear to all that there is no room for complacency. Instead, they are an urgent call to redouble our efforts to mobilise for greater protection of journalists and commitment to the safe practice of journalism."

As of 10 December 2020, the IFJ lists Latin America as the most dangerous region with 15 killings, followed by Asia Pacific with 13 murder cases. Africa and the Arab and Middle East region both had six killings and are in third place before Europe with two deaths.

In its 2020 ranking per country, Mexico tops the list for the fourth time in five years with 13 killings, followed by Pakistan (5) while Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Nigeria recorded 3 killings each. There were also two killings in the Philippines, Somalia and Syria. There was one journalist killed in Cameroon, Honduras, Paraguay, Russia, Sweden and Yemen.

At least 235 journalists in jail

The IFJ has found at least 235 journalists in prisons in 34 countries in work-related cases. This list does not include other journalists facing charges and released on bail.

An IFJ analysis has found that jailing media workers is often used as form of reprisals against brave journalists who stand up for independent reporting, and it is also intended to be a deterrent to others. This is especially the case in times of political upheaval and civil unrest where governments resort to crackdowns on the media as a means of denying the public access to reliable information.

The study also found many more cases of journalists who were detained for short periods of time before being released without charges, suggesting no illegal activity was involved. The detention of media workers represents an abuse of power and a tactical means of escape from scrutiny and public accountability.

In many cases, the IFJ's study found that numerous journalists have not been charged with any crime for years after their arrest, even decades for some who are now feared dead, such as in Eritrea.

The IFJ report highlights the use of allegations of membership of, or support for, various groups that journalists have reported on. This is the case in Turkey, where scores of journalists have been detained on allegations that they supported the failed coup in July 2016.

Civil unrest and elections-related protests have also led to large-scale arrests of journalists and other media workers, as was the case recently in Belarus.

Reporting on the handling of crisis situations, like the outbreak of covid-19, has led to the arrest and detention of journalists in some countries. In one tragic case, a veteran Egyptian journalist, who was detained on this spurious charge, contracted the virus while in custody and died in detention.

Younes Mjahed, IFJ president, said:

"These findings shine a spotlight on gross abuse by governments who seek to shield themselves against accountability by jailing journalists and denying them due process. The staggering numbers of our colleagues in detention is a sober reminder of the exacting price journalists around the globe pay for their pursuit of truth in the public interest."

The IFJ's analysis shows that Europe has the highest number of journalists in jail, with 91 media professionals in detention, the majority of whom are held in Turkey and Belarus. Africa follows on from Europe and Egypt has the highest number of journalists in jail (62). In other regions, China leads in the Asia Pacific with 47 journalists jailed. The Middle East and Arab World has 33 jailed journalists and country with the most detained is Saudi Arabia. The Americas as a region comes in at fifth place with cases in Cuba and Venezuela.

Countries with the highest numbers of journalists in prison this year –

  • Turkey (67)
  • Egypt (21)
  • China (23)
  • Eritrea (16)
  • Saudi Arabia (14)
  • Belarus (11)
  • Yemen and Cambodia (9 each)
  • Cameroon (6)
  • Morocco and Myanmar (5 each)
IFJ White paper on global journalism

Launched on UN human rights day, this white paper covers issues such as global freedom of expression, working conditions, youth and gender equality.

10 December 2020

Return to listing