Dispatches: The Global War Against Journalists

At the end of each year, Asia Sentinel totals the annual number of men and women who were murdered, caught in combat crossfire, jailed, beaten or censored because of because of their dedication to the profession of journalism.

Sadly, very few pay for the toll, partly because all too often it is governments or powerful organizations that do the killing. Since 1992, of 1029 journalists killed, 605 have been murdered without anyone ever being charged or convicted. Of those, 100 were killed in Iran, followed by 64 in the Philippines, 57 Algeria, 36 in Somalia. In Asia, 28 have been killed with impunity in Pakistan, 18 in India and 10 in Sri Lanka.

The statistics show that press freedom, and thus freedom of the electorate to know, is threatened in visceral ways across the planet as journalists bear the brunt of totalitarian regimes and violent factions out to destroy those who disagree with them. According to the two press watchdog organizations the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers, or Reporters Without Borders, 2013 was the second-worst year on record for the imprisonment of journalists, with 211 jailed worldwide. Turkey ranks at the top of the list, with 40 imprisoned.. Vietnam has 35 bloggers in custody. Fourteen media assistants were thrown in jail along with them.

The Committee to Protect Journalists keeps one total, the Reporters Without Borders keeps a second. They often differ, apparently because of the difficulty of determining whether some were murdered because they practiced the profession of telling the wider public the reality of their cities or countries or regions or for other reasons.

Reporters Without Borders lists 71 journalists killed in 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists lists 59 either murdered, killed in combat or on dangerous assignments. Nor according to both were bloggers and citizen jounalists spared. Another 36 bloggers and citizen journalists were murdered during the year, along with three media assistants.

In fact there may be more than either organization counts. For instance Reporters Without Borders lists eight dead in the Philippines, the Committee to Protect Journalists just one. But Human Rights Watch’s Manila representative Carlos Conde lists 12 journalists killed so far this year. In India, Asia Sentinel correspondent Nava Thakuria reports that “India is currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of violence against media personnel. Ranked 140th out 170 countries in the Reporters Without Boarders press freedom index 2013, the crowded country has witnessed the killing of at least eight journalists this year.”

The death of Sai Reddy a respected journalist who was beaten and stabbed to death in a market near his home on Dec.11 is both discouraging and emblematic of the perils. The 50-year-old Reddy had faced danger for years in Basguda in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgargh for his reporting on the Maoist Naxalite rebellion. Employed by the daily newspaper Beshbandhu, Reddy was imprisoned in 2008 for his supposed links with the Naxalites – while the Maosts accused him of links with the security forces, setting fire to his home and threatening to kill him. He was forced to leave Chhattisgarh and was only allowed to return after being forced to apologize to the Maoists. But he did return, and paid for it with his life when a gang of apparent Maoists surrounded him and stabbed him to death.

In all, besides Reddy, 14 other journalist were killed on what CPJ terms “dangerous assignments.” Almost all were based in the Middle East and the majority were killed in Egypt as tumult has enveloped the country.

Since 2008, 456 journalists have been forced to flee their homelands under threat of deth, imprisonment, violence or harassment, 82 from Iran and 70 from Somalia. Of those, 111 have ended up in the United States as a safe haven.

War zones continue hazardous although as the number of full-blown wars has diminished, the numbers of dead and missing reporters has fallen somewhat. The abduction of Bünyamin Aygün, a Turkish photojournalist for the daily Milliyet, was reported on Dec. 19 although he disappeared sometime before that while authorities sought to determine his whereabouts. Around 30 journalists have been reported missing so far since the insurrection began in Syria in 2012. In all, 20 journalists have been killed so far this year in Syria as well.

The Philippines remains one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a member of the Media. Three journalists have been shot dead in just the past two weeks, bringing the total to 12 according to Human Rights Watch, with one wounded in attacks by unidentified gunmen.

“Altogether, some 26 journalists have been killed in the first 40 months of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, and no one has been successfully prosecuted in any of these cases,” Human Rights Watch’s Conde wrote. “The Aquino administration’s response has been discouraging. While officials say the government is committed to ending impunity for these attacks, they have nevertheless sought to downplay them. On November 22, a presidential spokesman described the killings of Filipino reporters as ‘not so serious.’