Fifty journalists killed in 2020 for reporting news we need to know

Anna Triponel

January 4, 2021

2020 was another deadly year for journalists, with 50 killed around the world in the course of their work reporting on corruption, human rights abuses and protests. 2020 also continued a rising trend of targeted violence against journalists in direct connection with their work, as opposed to casualties of conflict. Reporters sans frontières’ reporting shows that attacks on journalists is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and other civil rights—which is harmful to people, erodes governance and is bad for business.

Nonprofit press freedom advocacy organisation Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders – RSF) released its annual report on journalists killed in 2020 while reporting on issues related to corruption, human rights abuses, protests, and more. The report is a sobering reflection on a year where members of the press—as well as human rights and environmental defenders and labour activists—faced significant risks in the line of work, ranging from threats to arbitrary detention to official and public harassment to physical violence.

At the same time, freedom of speech and of the press are crucial vehicles for protecting other human rights and promoting free and open civil discourse. Earlier in 2020, the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Global Rights Index reported a trend toward declining public trust in democratic institutions and eroded civil rights, signaling that a free press and protections for journalists are more important than ever—for citizens, for governments and for businesses.

Below are some of the figures collected by RSF, which demonstrate the scope of the problem:

  • 937 journalists have been killed over the past decade, with 50 journalists killed in 2020 alone

  • “387 journalists are currently detained in connection with their work”
  • 42 (84%) of those killed in 2020 were “murdered or deliberately targeted in connection with their work,” and 8 (16%) were killed while reporting “in the field without being deliberately targeted as journalists.” RSF reports that some journalists were “murdered in a particularly gruesome manner,” especially in Mexico and India
  • Since 2016, fewer and fewer journalists have been killed in war zones (just 32% in 2020), while the numbers of journalists killed in times of peace is growing (68% in 2020)

  • Seven journalists were killed while covering protests in Iraq, Nigeria and Colombia
  • The five deadliest countries for journalists in 2020 were Mexico (8 killed), Iraq (6 killed), Afghanistan (5 killed), Pakistan (4 killed) and India (4 killed)
  • RSF considers the COVID-19 pandemic to be an “aggravating factor” in several of the deaths of journalists this year. RSF identified at least three jailed journalists in Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who died of COVID-19 in prison after receiving inadequate medical treatment
  • Further, “2020 has also seen […] a fourfold increase in arrests of journalists during the first three months of Covid-19’s spread around the world. Fourteen journalists who were arrested in connection with their coverage of the pandemic are still being held.”

Read the full report here: Reporters sans frontières, Round-Up of Journalists Killed in 2020 (December 2020)

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