2020: Dozens of journalists killed in targeted attacks

“I don’t think it has ever been as scary as it is right now. Because it seems that all journalists are under threat,” says Najib Sharifi, the head of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, in a short video interview with DW. He’s been very busy these past few weeks and he looks exhausted.

“Within the span of only six weeks, we have lost four journalists,” he explains. They were all shot and killed at close range, or died when bombs that had been attached to their cars exploded.

Afghanistan has seen the same trend as other countries around the world, according to the nongovernmental organization Reporters without Borders (RSF) in the second part of its annual report. The report says there has been a drop in the number of journalists who died while reporting on armed conflict or terror attacks, but points out that the number of victims of targeted killings has risen steadily. Forty of the 50 journalists killed this year died this way.

In the case of female TV presenter Malala Maiwand, who died in an attack in Afghanistan in early December, the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) has claimed responsibility.

But Sharifi points out that it’s often impossible to identify the perpetrators and their motives. While IS and the Taliban were previously held responsible for such attacks, things have become less clear since the Taliban and the Afghan government have been holding peace talks, he explains.

Maryam Marof, a Kabul-based journalist, told DW that female journalists face an increased threat. “The enemies of Afghanistan are afraid that a new generation of Afghan women will challenge the taboos which they claim as part of the Afghan culture,” she said.

Mexico, India among top 5 dangerous countries

Once again, Mexico has topped the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists. At least eight journalists died there this year while investigating organized crime and corruption.

Iraq saw the death of three journalists who were covering anti-government protests in January 2020. At least one of them, according to RSF, had been targeted by gunmen seeking to stop the media from reporting on the event.

In Pakistan, the journalist Zulfiqar Mandrani was found dead in May, his body bearing signs of torture. His friends and colleagues claim his death was connected to his investigation of a drug case that involved alleged wrongdoings of police officers.

India is listed as one of the five most dangerous countries for journalists — since 2010, RSF has registered up to five journalist deaths there each year. This year, it has reported four cases allegedly linked to local organized crime groups.

The RSF findings have been confirmed by another media human rights watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which says Indian journalists face harassment and intimidation from criminals and state officials. CPJ has demanded a thorough investigation of the murder of journalist Rakesh Singh, who was killed in an arson attack in late November.

“The authorities must condemn this heinous crime and send a clear message that violence against journalists who are reporting on corruption will not be tolerated,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.

Earlier this month, Iran executed France-based Ruhollah Zam, the first journalist execution in 30 years, for allegedly instigating anti-government protests in 2017 through a Telegram short message channel. He was kidnapped on a trip to Iraq and imprisoned in Iran.

RSF also noted that hundreds of journalists lost their lives this year due to COVID-19. Some of these deaths were linked to their reporting assignments. RSF recorded three such cases in Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where journalists were arrested in connection with their work and later died of COVID-19 having been denied access to medical care.

*story by DW