At least 74 journalists have lost their lives in connection with their work in 2016, nearly three quarters of whom were likely deliberately targeted. That’s according to the latest report from Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders), an international organization and advocacy group dedicated to protecting journalists and promoting freedom of the press. These figures are down slightly from 2015, when 101 journalists were killed in connection with their work.
Syria remains the deadliest country for journalists with a total of nineteen killed in 2016. This is fifth time in a row Syria topped the list, having remained there since the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011. Afghanistan, where 10 journalists lost their lives, came in second in the number of journalist killings, followed by Mexico (9), Iraq (7), and Yeman (5).
Statistics on the murders of journalists are also compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based advocacy group. By their tabulations, 78 journalists and media workers were killed in connection to their work in 2016, 48 of which had a clear and established motive behind their death. The CPJ has been tracking journalist killings since 1992 and maintains a comprehensive database of all records that is accessible to the public.
The Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) report also tracks journalists who are detained, held hostage or are missing. In 2016, there were 52 journalists held hostage, the vast majority of them in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Additionally, at least 348 journalists are currently detained by government authorities worldwide.
Turkey became the largest detainer of professional journalists after dozens were rounded up following an attempted coup against President Recep Erdoğan’ government last July. As of December, at least 100 journalists are known to be imprisoned in Turkey, 41 of whom are confirmed to be detained directly for reasons relating to their work.
China continues to be the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, detaining 103 as of December 2016. Egypt came in third place with at least 27 confirmed to be in detention. To most observers, this doesn’t come as a surprise. China ranks negatively as 176 out of 180 countries on RSF’s Press Freedom Index while Egypt has undergone a brutal crackdown on press freedoms after Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime came to power in 2013.
In a December statement, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire reiterated the call for the UN to appoint a special envoy to oversee the protection of journalists, decrying the situation a “matter of urgency”. RSF last year teamed up with dozens of NGOs and international media outlets, including the New York Times and USA Today, to launch the Protect Our Journalists campaign to explicitly lobby the UN to create such a position.
The group launched the hashtag #ProtectOurJournalists which went viral on social media. In September, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists, calling on all member states to release arbitrarily detained journalists and reform laws to allow for greater press freedom. However, it fell short of establishing a special envoy.
At least 780 professional journalists have been killed since 2006 according to RSF’s tally of the earliest figures available. The CPJ puts that figure at 1228 killed since 1992. This is likely due to a difference in methodologies used by the two organizations. For example, there might be some disagreement over the motives behind a killing or even who is considered a journalist. Though only three weeks into 2017, RSF is already reporting 2 journalist deaths since the start of the new year. Hundreds more remain in prison, mostly in Turkey, Egypt, and China
While it’s still far too early to determine how safe this year will be for journalists and media professionals, these annual reports serve as as reminder that in many parts of the world, journalism remains a dangerous – often deadly – profession.