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Report: Fewer Journalists Killed in 2016, But Intimidation Rides High


FILE - Afghans take part in the burial of an Afghan journalist in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 7, 2016.

In January, freelance journalist Almigdad Mojalli was on assignment for the Voice of America, reporting on the civil war in his native Yemen, a conflict largely ignored by the rest of the world.

Mojalli had traveled to an area outside the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, to talk with survivors of airstrikes that killed 15 civilians the week before. Such scenes had become commonplace as a Saudi Arabia-led coalition ramped up its offensive against Houthi rebels.

The 34-year-old journalist, who also worked for outlets such as The Telegraph, frequently drew attention to the most marginalized groups in Yemeni society, including minorities and the handicapped, who are especially vulnerable to violence.

FILE - Almigdad Mojalli conducts an interview, January 2015. Mojalli was one of six journalists killed in Yemen in 2016.
FILE - Almigdad Mojalli conducts an interview, January 2015. Mojalli was one of six journalists killed in Yemen in 2016.

But that January morning, Mojalli himself became the victim, when a bomb from a Saudi coalition warplane landed nearby, sending shrapnel into his stomach, neck and face. He died soon after, leaving behind seven dependents, including a son.

Mojalli was one of six journalists killed in Yemen in 2016, making it — tied with Iraq — the world's second-deadliest country for the profession, according to an annual report published Monday by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Overall, at least 48 journalists were killed worldwide in 2016, according to the watchdog group. In many ways, Mojalli's story mirrors the composite pattern of violence.

According to CPJ figures, three-quarters of those killed were war correspondents. More than half died in combat or crossfire. More than a quarter were freelancers. Nine out of ten were local reporters, documenting carnage in their own countries.

Reduction in killings

The overall number of deaths for 2016 is down significantly from a year earlier. In 2015, CPJ reported 72 journalist killings worldwide, the highest yearly total since it began tracking figures.

It's difficult to account for the reduction, says CPJ, but some of the possible explanations aren't positive, including the ravaging of journalistic communities by extremist groups, such as Islamic State.

VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omar, center, was among those injured in the twin car bomb blasts in Syria, July 27, 2016.
VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omar, center, was among those injured in the twin car bomb blasts in Syria, July 27, 2016.

"One thing you might extrapolate is that in certain conflicts it has gotten so incredibly dangerous for journalists that there is simply fewer people doing journalism," said Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at CPJ.

That appears to be the case in Syria, where 14 journalists were killed in 2016. Overall, Syria was the most deadly country for journalists for the fifth year in a row, according to the CPJ report.

Intimidation

Another factor that might explain the reduction in the number of journalists killed is intimidation and censorship by governments, many of which have passed legislation restricting free speech.

"People aren't doing their job as they once did it," explained Steve Raymer, a veteran photojournalist who teaches conflict journalism at Indiana University Media School. "To be sued for libel is too expensive. It's just easier to sit back and report things from the safety of the studio or another country."

Intimidation is a factor in Russia. Dozens of journalists have been murdered in retaliation for reporting since 1992, but the country has not seen a journalist killed since 2013, according to CPJ, a figure that suggests a switch in tactics.

"Russia has enacted so much more legislation to silence journalists and silence critical voices that they don't need to kill people, that they don't need to murder their journalists," Raymer said.

That strategy of silencing reporters by intimidation is being copied around the world. A separate CPJ report released earlier this month found a record number of journalists around the world — 259 — are in jail.

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