So far in 2019, at least 25 journalists have been killed in 13 countries — a sharp decrease from previous years, although 25 other killings of journalists are under investigation by the group. Ten of those killed were not killed in crossfire or on a dangerous assignment, but targeted and murdered, the committee said. And half the murders took place in Mexico.
The murder rate is the lowest the group has recorded since it started collecting data in 1992, but Courtney Radsch, the committee’s advocacy director, said it is worrisome that so many of the killings were recorded in Mexico, which is not experiencing civil war but has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists because of fighting among powerful drug cartels and widespread impunity.
Still, the overall drop in deaths is significant, Radsch said, because particularly high numbers of journalists were killed in the past several years, with many being murdered. She said she hopes that intensive media coverage of two high-profile journalist killings sent a signal to potential perpetrators that the international community will not tolerate attacks on journalists.
In 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist, was killed when a bomb attached to her car detonated close to her home. Two years later, Jorgen Fenech, a high-profile businessman, was charged with complicity in the murder, and street protests over the slow-moving investigation and alleged implication of some of Malta’s elite in the crime led to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announcing that he would resign in January. Muscat’s chief of staff also resigned and was briefly held by police in relation to the case.
“It was so unacceptable that a journalist should be murdered so brazenly in a country that is a member of the E.U. and purports to be a democracy,” Radsch said.
Then, last year, Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, prompting global uproar and widespread condemnation of the prince.
The CIA concluded that Mohammed ordered the killing, but last week, after a long trial, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that five unidentified people would be sentenced to death in the case. Two senior officials, including one of the crown prince’s advisers who is alleged to have planned and overseen the killing, were cleared of wrongdoing.
“It trained so much attention on Saudi Arabia that one can only hope that sent a signal to other countries that the world is watching,” Radsch said.
And impunity in other lesser-known cases remains widespread. Many of the journalists killed in the past decade were local journalists targeted for covering conflict, corruption or gang violence in their own communities.
According to the committee’s annual Global Impunity Index, published in October, at least 318 journalists were murdered because of their work between Sept. 1, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2019. In 86 percent of those cases, the committee found, the perpetrators still had not been fully prosecuted.
And even if fewer journalists were killed in 2019 than in years past, attacks on press freedom remain rampant. Governments have cracked down on the free press, charging journalists with publishing false news, raiding media organizations and implementing Internet blackouts.
Earlier this month, the committee said at least 250 journalists were being held in detention globally.