It was not a good year for journalists.
From Myanmar to Annapolis, reporters were harassed, arrested and even killed for doing their jobs. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 45 journalists were killed in 2018 because of their work. Reporters Without Borders put the figure slightly higher. By its tally, more professional journalists were killed in connection with their work in the first nine months of 2018 than in all of 2017.
Conflict zones such as those in Afghanistan and Syria continue to be the deadliest places for journalists to work. But press-freedom groups warn of worsening conditions in places where a free press has been a pillar of civil society, including Mexico, parts of Europe and the United States.
“This has been one of the worst years of press freedom,” said Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Over the past couple years, we’ve see a deterioration in the environment in which people work, both in terms of people in prison and journalists killed.”
There are too many threats, arrests and killings to list, but here are four cases that set the tone in 2018:
Setup in Myanmar
Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo started the year in prison. To the surprise and outrage of many, they will end it there as well.
The pair was arrested in December 2017 while investigating reports of a massacre of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar. While they were reporting, a police officer invited them to meet up. As they were leaving the meeting, the reporters said, the policeman handed them documents. Soon after they left the meeting, they were arrested.
Despite testimony from another police official that they were set up, a court found the two men guilty of violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced them to seven years in prison.
Foreign governments and human rights groups condemned the outcome, saying the trial and sentencing signaled trouble for democracy in Myanmar. “The clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar,” the U.S. Embassy there said in a statement.
The case will have a chilling effect on journalism in Myanmar, Khin Maug Zaw, the jailed reporters' attorney, told The Washington Post. The message is, he said: “Hold your tongues, don’t say anything, don’t be inquisitive.”
Shot in Annapolis
On the afternoon of June 28, a man burst into the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis and opened fire, killing five people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on U.S. journalists in decades.
It apparently was not a random shooting. The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, 38, had been harassing Gazette journalists since the paper ran a column noting that he was convicted of criminally harassing a woman. The harassment was so intense that the paper’s former editor, Tom Marquardt, had previously wondered whether Ramos would eventually attack.
“I said during that time, ‘This guy is crazy enough to come in and blow us all away,’ ” he told the Los Angeles Times.
In the aftermath of the killings, critics accused President Trump of inciting the shooting by denouncing the news media. Writing in The Washington Post, media critic Margaret Sullivan cautioned against drawing a direct line between the president and Ramos. But she argued that the president’s rhetoric is indeed having an effect on press freedom.
“Trump can’t, and shouldn’t, be blamed for the Annapolis massacre,” she wrote. “But that doesn’t make his contempt for the press any less dangerous.”
Ambushed in Afghanistan
The media scene that once thrived in post-Taliban Afghanistan is increasingly under attack.
On April 30, a suicide bomber riding a motorbike blew himself up in Kabul, not far from the U.S. Embassy. As journalists rushed to the scene, a second bomber, posing as a journalist, detonated his own device and killed 25 people, including nine reporters and photographers.
In a separate attack on the same day, Ahmad Shah, a reporter for the BBC, was shot dead in Khost province. “This is the deadliest day for Afghan media in the past 15 years,” Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV, told the BBC at the time.
He insisted that the violence would not break the resolve of the country’s journalists. “We went, all of us, to the blast site,” he said. “We said: ‘If you killed an entire line of journalists reporting here, in five hours time we’re back here; the line is longer; the queue is longer and the resolve is greater.’ ”
Journalists indeed kept going back — with deadly consequences.
On Sept. 6, Samim Faramarz was reporting from the scene of a bombing in Kabul when a second explosion hit, cutting the broadcast and killing Faramarz and his cameraman, Ramiz Ahmady.
His last words were broadcast live: “The area is completely terrorized. I can smell blood here, and as you can see in the pictures. ...”
And then he, too, was gone.
Killed by Saudi Arabia
On Oct. 2, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. He never emerged, and his disappearance — along with the eventual confirmation that he had been killed — sparked a months-long diplomatic crisis that’s still unfolding.
Initially Saudi Arabia denied any role in the killing and even that Khashoggi was dead. Over the ensuing weeks, however, the Saudis changed their story, eventually admitting that Khashoggi had been killed by “rogue” Saudi agents. They have since charged several men who were part of the alleged hit squad. Five of them face the death penalty.
But the Saudi account is increasingly at odds with evidence shared by Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed and dismembered. It is also contradicted by the CIA, which has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing.
Since the killing, the United States, Europe, Canada and others have warned of consequences but have not delivered much of a concrete response. President Trump has refused to blame Mohammed directly, preferring to talk up the value of Washington’s relationship with (and arms sales to) Riyadh.
In his final column for The Washington Post, Khashoggi wrote about the need for press freedom in Saudi Arabia and across the region.
“The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events,” he wrote. “Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”
The piece was published on Oct. 17, 15 days after he was killed.