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Journalists, one with "Press" written on his jacket
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Scholz

Fewer journalists killed but more detained

Mirjam Benecke
December 17, 2019

Reporters Without Borders says 49 journalists have been killed in 2019, the lowest figure in 16 years. But the reasons for the fall in deaths are not wholly positive.


Norma Sarabia Garduza was sitting on a porch when the masked men came. They got out of their vehicle, fired several shots at the journalist, then left. The 46-year-old died instantly.

Garduza was one of 10 journalists killed in Mexico this year. She wrote about corruption and violent crime in the southeastern state of Tabasco.

Read more: Mexico: When drug violence 'turns into terrorism' 

57 journalists abducted, 389 incarcerated

In 2019, Mexico was again alongside Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan on the list of most dangerous countries for journalists and media workers, according to the annual report from press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The good news is that the global number of journalist killings fell significantly in 2019. In the previous year, 87 professional journalists, citizen-journalists and media workers were killed, while in the first 11 months of 2019 the number was 49 — the lowest toll in 16 years. The number of reporters who died in conflict zones fell especially sharply.

Infografik Reporter ohne Grenzen inhaftierte Medienschaffende EN

Read more: Journalists under threat: December's 10 most urgent cases

Fewer war reporters at work

"There are different reasons for that and they aren't all positive," says RSF spokeswoman Juliane Matthey. For one thing, far fewer foreign reporters are going to war zones and crisis zones. For the first time, no journalist was killed while working abroad — all were in their own country.

Another factor is that many reporters are being better trained and better equipped before being sent into war zones. That's especially the case in the Middle East. Matthey says Afghan journalists have got used to avoiding groups and long journeys to reduce the chances of being attacked.

Infografik Reporter ohne Grenzen getötete Medienschaffende EN

The number of journalist killings has also fallen significantly in Yemen — from 10 in 2018 to two in 2019. "But that is partly because many journalists have changed job because of the unstable situation," says Matthey. According to RSF, one former reporter for newspaper Al-Thawra works as a waiter in the capital, Sanaa. Another, who used to work for the Akhbar al-Youm paper, sells ice cream.

In contrast to the number of killings, the number of incarcerated journalists rose in 2019. Globally, as of the beginning of December, there were 389 journalists and media workers in jail because of their work. That's around 12% more than the previous year.

The largest share of them are in China, where the number of detained journalists doubled in the space of a year — from 60 to 120.

Read more: Writers in prison, killed or harassed: PEN International's case list

Infografik Reporter ohne Grenzen Getötete, entführte und inhaftierte Medienschaffende EN

Citizen-journalists face pressure

More than 40% of them are citizen-journalists — people without journalistic training who share privately sourced content with the public.

Despite stricter censorship, Chinese citizen-journalists have tried to disseminate independent information online. As a result, they have been accused of "espionage" or "separatism."

The most prominent case is that of citizen-journalist and economist Ilham Tohti. He has been in a Chinese jail since 2014 over allegations of "separatism."  Tohti used his website to promote the rights of Uighurs. China has been accused by a number of countries at the United Nations of subjecting the Muslim minority group to continued persecution.

Press freedom declines in Hungary

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