The number of journalists killed in retaliation for their work more than doubled in 2020, a year when more news people than ever were jailed by authoritarian governments, according to new figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Twenty-one journalists were murdered because of their work—up from 10 the previous year, and the nonprofit advocacy group said it was investigating the circumstances of 15 other deaths. All told, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 15, at least 30 journalists were killed around the world, CPJ reports. Criminal groups were most often suspected in the deaths, notably in Mexico. Politics was the most dangerous beat. The three journalists killed in combat—all in Syria, apparently from Russian air strikes—was the lowest number since 2000.
Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual tally of jailed journalists, which at 274 worldwide was the highest in the nearly three-decade history of that census. This year an Iranian journalist appeared on both lists: Roohallah Zam was kidnapped by Iranian operatives—apparently from neighboring Iraq—imprisoned and then hanged on Dec. 12. He had spread information on demonstrations and otherwise embarrassed the Iranian government on the Telegram messaging app. “Zam’s killing is nothing but state-sponsored murder,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon.
Simon noted that while the Trump Administration condemned Zam’s death, it undermined press freedom around the globe over the last four years. President Donald Trump has attacked the integrity of journalists, promoted the concept of “fake news” to dismiss accurate reports it deemed unwelcome—and failed to condemn the 2018 assassination and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi Arabian consulate. CPJ called on President-elect Joe Biden to restore the U.S. tradition of supporting freedom of expression abroad by appointing a special envoy for press freedom.
The New-York based organization maintains a “global impunity index” ranking nations by how likely killings are to remain officially unsolved. Somalia, which has had no functioning central government since the early 1990s, ranks first. The top ten includes Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Sudan and Brazil.