Journalist Deaths Hit Decade Peak
Half in Iraq; record number in Somalia
New York, December 18, 2007―Journalists were killed in unusually high numbers in 2007, making it the deadliest year for the press in more than a decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ end-of-year analysis. Worldwide, CPJ found 64 journalists were killed in direct connection to their work in 2007―up from 56 last year―and it is investigating another 22 deaths to determine whether they were work-related. CPJ has recorded only one year with a higher death toll: 1994, when 66 journalists were killed, many in conflicts in Algeria, Bosnia, and Rwanda.
The Washington Post‘s Rajiv
Chandrasekaran speaks about the murder
of reporter Salih Saif Aldin in Baghdad.
For the fifth straight year, Iraq was the deadliest country in the world for the press. Its 31 victims account for nearly half of the 2007 toll. Most of the victims were targeted and murdered, such as Washington Post reporter Salih Saif Aldin, who died in Baghdad from a single gunshot wound to the head. In all, 24 deaths in Iraq were murders and seven occurred in combat-related crossfire.
Unidentified gunmen, suicide bombers, and U.S. military activity all posed fatal risks for Iraqi journalists. All but one of 31 journalists killed were Iraqi nationals. They worked mainly for local media, although nine worked for international news organizations such as The New York Times, ABC News, Reuters, and The Associated Press. The 2007 toll in Iraq is consistent with that of 2006, when 32 journalists died.
“Working as a journalist in Iraq remains one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Members of the press are being hunted down and murdered with alarming regularity. They are abducted at gunpoint and found dead later or shot dead on the spot. Those who die are nearly always Iraqi and many work for international news agencies. These journalists gave their lives so that all of us could be informed about what is happening in Iraq.”
Twelve media support workers, such as bodyguards and drivers, also died in Iraq. Since the beginning of the war in March 2003, 124 journalists and 49 media workers have been killed, making it the deadliest conflict for the press in recent history. More than one-third worked for international news organizations.
Somalia was the second-deadliest country for the media in 2007, with seven journalist deaths. “Horrific violence in Iraq overshadowed the increasingly deteriorating environment for the media in Somalia,” said Simon. “Journalists reporting in Somalia face great risks every day.”
Included in the seven deaths in Somalia are the back-to-back assassinations of two prominent journalists. Mahad Ahmed Elmi, director of Capital Voice radio in Mogadishu, died after being shot four times in the head. Hours later, a remotely detonated landmine took the life of HornAfrik Media co-owner Ali Iman Sharmarke as he left Elmi’s funeral.
Deaths spiked in Africa overall, from two in 2006 to 10 this year. Two journalists died in Eritrea and one in Zimbabwe in 2007.
Beneath the terrible numbers, CPJ documented some positive developments: There were no murders of journalists in Colombia this year for the first time in more than 15 years. For the first time since 1999, there were no work-related deaths of Philippine journalists.
Murder is the leading cause of work-related deaths for journalists worldwide. Consistent with previous years, about seven in 10 journalist deaths in 2007 were murders. (Combat-related deaths and deaths in dangerous assignments account for the rest.) CPJ announced a global campaign against impunity in November to seek justice in journalist murders. The campaign focuses on the Philippines and Russia, two of the deadliest countries for the press over the past 15 years.
Despite recent convictions in both countries, the impunity rate in each remains at about 90 percent. “Unsolved killings spread fear and self-censorship, crippling the work of the media,” said Simon. “We need to break the cycle by bringing the killers of journalists to justice.”
In every region of the world, journalists who produced critical reporting or covered sensitive stories were silenced. In both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, five journalists were killed for their work. Suicide bombers caused three of the five deaths in Pakistan, including the death of Muhammad Arif of ARY One World TV, who was among the 139 people killed when bombs exploded during the homecoming of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In Sri Lanka, air force fighter jets bombed the Voice of Tigers radio station, killing three employees. One slaying occurred in the United States, where a masked gunman shot Oakland Post Editor-in-Chief Chauncey Bailey as he walked to work. Police moved quickly to apprehend the suspected gunman.
Millions of people around the globe watched the apparently deliberate murder of Japanese photographer Kenji Nagai by Burmese troops during the crackdown on antigovernment demonstrators in Rangoon. No apparent moves have been made to bring his killer to justice.
The assassination of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink outside his newspaper office in Istanbul sent shock waves through the Turkish press and the international community. In Kyrgyzstan, ethnic Uzbek independent journalist Alisher Saipov was shot and killed at close range, and in Peru, popular radio commentator Miguel Pérez Julca was gunned down in front of his family.
Nepal, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Haiti, Honduras, and Russia also made the list of places with journalist fatalities this year. Five journalists are classified as missing, three of them in Mexico.
Media support workers are increasingly at risk, CPJ research shows. For the first time, CPJ has compiled a list of media worker deaths. Worldwide, 20 translators, fixers, guards, and drivers were killed in 2007. The victims include three Mexican newspaper delivery workers slain by drug traffickers seeking to silence their employer.
CPJ, founded in 1981, compiles and analyzes journalist deaths each year. CPJ staff applies strict criteria for each entry on the annual killed list; researchers independently investigate and verify the circumstances behind each death. CPJ considers a case work-related only when its staff is reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment.
If the motives in a killing are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist died in direct relation to his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ’s list does not include journalists who died from illness or were killed in accidents―such as car or plane crashes―unless the crash was caused by hostile action. Other press organizations using different criteria cite higher numbers of deaths than CPJ.
A preliminary list of journalists killed for their work in 2007, with reporting on each case, is available online. Also online are capsules for the unconfirmed cases that CPJ is still investigating, and capsules for media worker deaths. A final list of journalists killed in 2007 will be released on January 2, 2008.