IF 2014 has seemed like a particularly dangerous year for journalists, well, appearances are not deceiving. Not only were Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff beheaded by Islamic State terrorists after months of torturous captivity, but also their lesser-known colleagues from lesser-known nations have been murdered, kidnapped, assaulted and imprisoned at an alarming rate, by violent non-state actors and repressive governments alike.
That’s the inescapable conclusion of two annual reports by the global watchdog groups Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The former counted 119 journalists kidnapped, 66 killed and 178 imprisoned. Another 853 were arrested and 139 forced into exile. To be sure, these numbers are not unprecedented, and most of the worst violence occurred in war zones, where journalists knew ahead of time they were risking their lives. Still, the RWB report notes the new “barbaric sense of propaganda” with which reporters such as Foley, Sotloff and Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi were murdered by the Islamic State — and which is so clearly intended to deter anyone else from taking a chance on covering that terrorist group’s drive through Iraq and Syria.
As for state repression, China again leads the list of media jailers, according to the CPJ, with 44 journalists imprisoned, up from 32 in 2013. This reflects “the pressure that President Xi Jinping has exerted on media, lawyers, dissidents, and academics to toe the government line,” the CPJ reported. China has also tightened its restrictions on what reporters can cover, especially among its minority Tibetan and Uighur populations. Iran still holds our Post colleague Jason Rezaian without justification, yet it reduced the ranks of jailed journalists from 35 to 30 since 2013. Egypt’s new military government, meanwhile, has at least 12 reporters behind bars, among them three respected journalists, two of whom hold Western citizenship, working for Al Jazeera’s English-language channel.
We draw attention to these grim facts not to make a special plea on behalf of our profession — in principle, all other human rights are no less precious than freedom of the press. We intend to note, with alarm and astonishment, the lengths to which the world’s dictators and terrorists will still go, in this information-saturated age, to stop the dissemination of facts they find inconvenient. And we intend to salute the courageous people who nevertheless devote their lives to reporting the truth. They may, by force, be temporarily silenced. They should never be taken for granted or forgotten.
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