Fifty journalists killed in 2020, targeting “barbaric murders”, says the watchdog

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) said on Tuesday.

The figure shows an increased focus on journalists who investigate organized crime, corruption or environmental issues, the watchdog said.

It highlighted the killings in Mexico, India and Pakistan.

Eighty-four percent of those killed this year were “consciously targeted” for their work, RSF said in its annual report, compared to 63 percent in 2019.

“For several years now, Reporters Without Borders has noted that investigative journalists are indeed at the crossroads of states or cartels,” said Pauline Ades-Mevel, editor-in-chief of the RSF.

Mexico was the deadliest country with eight killed. “Links between drug traffickers and politicians remain, and journalists who dare to cover these or related issues continue to be targets of barbaric killings,” the report said.

None of the killings in Mexico had yet been punished, added RSF, which has been compiling annual reports of violence against journalists around the world since 1995.

Five journalists were killed in war-torn Afghanistan, it said, noting an increased targeted attack on staff in recent months, despite peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

The RSF also highlighted the case of the Iranian opposition figure Ruhollah Zam, who ran a popular social media channel that brought together the regime’s opponents and was executed in December.

His execution “confirms Iran’s record as the country that has officially killed the most journalists in the last half century,” it said.

Covid whistleblower

Ades-Mevel said the RSF had also noted the “evolving” trend of violence against media workers that covered protests, especially in the United States after the killing of George Floyd, and in France against a controversial new security law.

The total number of journalists killed in 2020 was lower than the 53 reported in 2019, although RSF said fewer journalists worked in the field this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first part of the report, published this month, the RSF said it was concerned that measures taken by governments to combat the pandemic had contributed to a “significant peak in violations of press freedom”.

It listed 387 imprisoned journalists, whom it called “a historically high number”.

Fourteen of them had been arrested in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, it is said.

On Monday, Chinese national journalist Zhang Zhan, who sent broadcasts from Wuhan during the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, was jailed for four years for “picking up quarrels and provoking.”

Chinese authorities have punished eight virus senders as far as limiting criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.