A new report by Reporters Without Borders reveals the bleak dangers that journalists are faced with in their daily work. With 141 people killed, 2012 has been one of the worst years for press freedom in a long time.
“2012 was an extremely deadly year,” says Ulrike Gruska of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The organization’s just-published annual report shows a total of 141 journalists, bloggers and media workers were killed because of their work. Of these, six were media employees and 47 were bloggers – the report describes these as “citizen journalists.” In addition, 88 professional journalists were killed in the course of their duties – more than at any time since the introduction of the RSF annual reports in 1995.
“The 88 journalists killed in 2012 lost their lives while covering wars or bombings, or were murdered by groups linked to organized crime (including drug trafficking), by Islamist militias or on the orders of corrupt officials,” the report said.
Al Husseini Abu Dief
Egyptian journalist Al Husseini Abu Dief was shot dead in early December while filming unrest in Cairo. The 33-year-old photojournalist from the daily newspaper Al-Fagr, who trained at the DW Akademie, was covering the presidential palace, where he wanted to film the clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsi. According to an eyewitness, Al Husseini Abu Dief was shot at close range by an unknown assailant. Six days later, he died of his injuries.
2012 was particularly dangerous for citizen journalists, bloggers and Internet reporters. Five died in 2011 – but in 2012 there were 47 deaths around the world, 44 in Syria alone. “In Syria, many people have tried to break through the regime’s information blockade,” Gruska said, “by getting information out of the country, whether in the form of blogs and video messages or mobile phone videos. And we had to rely on this heavily in our Syria coverage in Germany because there were hardly any professional journalists on the ground.”
Syria: deadly for journalists
The report calls Syria a “cemetery for news providers.” “The problem for Syrian colleagues is they very often get caught in the crossfire,” explains Nils Butcher, editor of Zenith magazine, which focuses on the Arab and Islamic world. “To many rebels, employees of state television do not count as neutral observers of the war. Islamist groups in particular have systematically attacked, abducted and executed Syrian state media journalists.”
Even employees of Russian media are in great danger, said Metzger, who last did research in Syria in October 2012. He also gave examples of abuses by government troops, such as the bombing of an opposition press center. A total of 65 media workers were killed in Syria in 2012 while working. Some 21 were imprisoned, including Mazen Darwish. “Being a journalist in Syria is like walking on a minefield”, Darwish once said. “No one can say when a mine will explode.” Among others, the 38-year-old founded the “Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression”. Darwish was arrested in February 2012. Where he has been held ever since is unknown.
Reporters Without Borders is now honoring Darwish with an award for his courage and commitment. Also awarded for 2012 is the Afghan newspaper “8Sobh”, meaning “Eight o’clock in the morning.”
Brazil: World Cup fever and murder of journalists
The report says 2012 was a “black year” for Somalia, where 18 journalists were killed, more than ever before in a single year. In Pakistan, 10 journalists and media workers were killed. For years, the country has been one of the most dangerous places for working journalists, writes RSF.
Journalists also live dangerously in Mexico – especially if they are writing about organized crime, and thus about drug trafficking and the links between criminal bosses and civil servants. Six journalists were killed there in 2012.
Reporters Without Borders also counts Brazil among the most dangerous countries – even though it is the venue for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. Five reporters have died here – two were apparently murdered because they were researching cases of drug smuggling.
More journalists in jail than ever
At present, 193 journalists are in prisons worldwide, 70 in Turkey alone. In the case of 42 of them, RSF is sure that there is a connection with their profession. China also imprisons professional and citizen journalists – at present there are about 100 behind bars, most of whom have been there for many years are are living in inhumane conditions. Often corrupt regional officials are behind the judgments, to get rid of their harshest critics.
‘Eritrea arrests journalists and leaves them to rot’
Eritrea currently has 28 journalists in jail – sometimes in solitary confinement in underground cells. The report reserves its harshest criticism for this East African country: “One of the planet’s few remaining totalitarian dictatorships and ranked last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Eritrea arrests journalists and leaves them to rot in prison on the least suspicion of posing a threat to national security or taking a critical view of government policies.”
Journalists face dangers in other countries, too: Oman and Cuba, for example, took steps against bloggers critical of the government, the report said. It also leveled harsh accusations at Iran. In Africa, northern Mali was the main source of concern. The report did not offer criticism of Western countries.