Activists from Reporters Without Borders hang a poster of Syrian President… (Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP/…)
Friday marks World Press Freedom Day, first declared by the United Nations two decades ago as a day to nurture the freedom of journalists -- or to remind the world of where it falls short. Rights groups pointed to several spots on the globe where reporters are persecuted or in peril.
Syria is the deadliest country in the world for journalists, Amnesty International said in a newly released report. At least 46 people have been slain while reporting on its civil conflict between March 2011 and late April 2013, most of them Syrian nationals, according to UNESCO.
Journalists have come under fire from both government forces and rebels, some of them deliberately targeted for their work. Government forces are believed to have abducted, tortured and killed reporters, according to testimony gathered by Amnesty. Opposition fighters have publicly threatened journalists deemed sympathetic to the Syrian government and celebrated when they were attacked. At least seven journalists are now missing in Syria, according to the Agence France-Presse.
The government clampdown on foreign and local journalists has spurred citizen reporters to take up cameras to document the carnage in their neighborhoods, exposing themselves to added risk. The barrage of violent attacks on journalists “may amount to war crimes,” the human rights group wrote.
Those and other attacks made 2012 the deadliest one for journalists worldwide since the International Press Institute started systematically tracking journalists’ deaths in 1997.
On top of the dozens of reporters killed in Syria, at least 16 reporters were slain last year in Somalia, according to the group. Many appear to have been killed in retaliation for their work.
The Islamist militant group the Shabab is believed to be behind some of the killings, the Los Angeles Times' Robyn Dixon wrote last year, but warlords and powerful businessmen are also suspected.
“In Mogadishu, the atmosphere is very fearful and people wonder how they can continue doing their jobs. Many have stopped. They're afraid of being killed,” Rashid Abdullahi Haydar of the National Union of Somali Journalists told The Times. “Families are afraid too. They are saying, ‘Please stop this [journalism] because you have no rights and no protection. ’ ”
Iraq has failed to seek justice as its journalists are slain, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday, giving it the worst ranking on its newly updated impunity index. No convictions have been obtained in 93 cases of journalists killed over the last decade, the group said, with “no sign that authorities are working to solve any of them.”
Somalia and the Philippines also ranked high on the committee's impunity list. In Somalia, authorities pledged this year to investigate killings of journalists, creating a task force to examine past slayings. In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino III has made similar promises, but 55 slayings of journalists over the last decade remain unsolved, the committee said.
Other countries have fewer reported killings of journalists, but give journalists no freedom to do their work. Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea last in its annual report on press freedom.
The three countries have repeatedly ranked last on that list, with little change seen in state control over the media. In January, Eritrean officials denied reports that dissident soldiers had taken over its Ministry of Information and broadcast demands for change.
Eritrea is “Africa’s biggest prison for journalists,” with at least 30 of them behind bars, Reporters Without Borders wrote. It added that although no journalists were killed last year, “some were left to die, which amounts to the same thing.” Since 2001, seven journalists have killed themselves while imprisoned or died because of prison conditions, according to the media freedom group.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs. “When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits,” Ban said Thursday.