Annual Toll of Journalists Murdered

This is a story about numbers. And while you might find numbers dull, in this case we do not. These are the numbers of our colleagues in the journalism profession who were either murdered or jailed in 2010 for doing their job, compiled by the press freedom organizations, the France-based Reporters Without Borders and the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The figures, while fewer than in 2009, nonetheless provide a depressing reminder of the fragility globally of the freedom of the press, and of the dedication of the men and women who fight for the public’s right to know. And, as usual, there have been few prosecutions. Of the 843 journalists murdered for doing their job since 1992, when the CPJ started keeping records, there have been no prosecutions in 543 of them.

At least 54 journalists and one media assistant have been killed so far in 2010, according to Reporters Without Borders, with 157 journalists and nine media assistants imprisoned along with 114 bloggers. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists a smaller total, at 42 killed. The discrepancy appears to be over the fact that no motive has yet been established for some journalists’ deaths. The CPJ lists another 28 who died in 2010 under such circumstances.

“Journalists killed” includes “only cases in which Reporters Without Borders has clearly established that the victim was killed because of his/her activities as a journalist,” the organization’s website notes. “It does not include cases in which the motives were not related to the victim’s work or in which a link has not yet been confirmed.”

Nor is the year over yet. On Dec. 17, Alfrets Mirulewan, chief editor of the Pelangi Weekly, a newspaper on the island of Kisar in the eastern Malukus in Indonesia, was found with bruises on much of his body, according to Indonesian media reports. He had been missing since Dec. 14. He had reportedly been investigating black market fuel sales.

"Given the circumstances of his death, there is reason to suspect Alfrets Mirulewan could have been killed for his work. Indonesia is earning a bad reputation as a place where journalists can be killed with impunity," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. Mirulewan was the third journalist to be killed in Indonesia this year. Two television journalists were killed earlier, but there have been no prosecutions in their cases, the CPJ said.

A full 50 percent of those murdered covered politics as a beat, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Another 26 were war correspondents. Some 31 percent were investigating corruption (the figures add up to more than 100 percent because several of the dead were covering multiple beats).

The 2009 figures were skewed by a horrific incident in the province of Maguindanao in the Philippines, where 33 reporters were murdered in the middle of a political feud ordered by Andal Ampatuan Jr., the son of a local warlord. It appears to be the worst single incident in global history. Although Ampatuan has been arrested, witnesses have been murdered or bribed not to testify. The trial is expected to take years and there is concern that he and others charged will get off.

Pakistan was the most dangerous place for reporters in 2010, with 11 murdered. Iraq was second, with seven killed. The same number died in Mexico, where the government has been attempting to quell an insurrection by drug lords that has taken the lives of 30,000 people. The Philippines continues to be one of the most dangerous places in Asia, with four murdered.

Five reporters were reported killed in combat or crossfire in 2010, down from 11 in 2009. Two died in Afghanistan, one each in Somalia, Lebanon and Pakistan. Another 11 died on dangerous assignments such as riots or insurrections. That included Hiro Muramoto of Reuters, who may have been targeted deliberately by Thai troops on April 10 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The six online journalists whose killings the CPJ recorded this year worked across all media. Some were pushed into using the Net as the only permitted way to disseminate their work. Other chose the Internet and found it to be their perfect medium, gathering huge audiences through their rapid, informal newsgathering and commentary, the CPJ said.

“All were killed not because of how they published their stories, but because of dangerous, revelatory content of their work--whether it was investigating their local governments, documenting sectarian violence, or uncovering the extent of organized crime.”