According to a report released on Monday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that terrorist groups and governments have made recent years the most dangerous period to work as a journalist. Targeted by both terrorists and national security agencies, journalists across the world have been subjected to kidnapping, torture, murder, government surveillance, censorship, and imprisonment. As Islamic State continues releasing videos of beheaded reporters, the number of journalists detained in jails worldwide has more than doubled since 2000.
In its annual global assessment of press freedom, Attacks on the Press: Journalists caught between terrorists and governments, the CPJ reported that the incessant war on terror has escalated the risk to journalists’ lives as many of their murders remain unsolved. With the advent of mass electronic surveillance, journalists must now employ extreme countermeasures in order to protect the identities of their sources and often succumb to self-censorship while working in abject fear of arbitrary detention.
“From government surveillance and censorship to computer hacking, from physical attacks to imprisonment, kidnapping, and murder, the aim is to limit or otherwise control the flow of information—an increasingly complicated effort, with higher and higher stakes,” wrote CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in the review’s foreword.
In the U.S., the National Security Agency (NSA) is attempting to gather every piece of electronic communication sent or received. With the government recording our phone conversations, email archives, cell-site location, metadata, online activity, and GPS, reporters also have to contend with roving bugs and surveillance cameras in order to protect their source’s identity. Without employing surveillance countermeasures such as encryption tools and clandestine meetings, journalists can no longer guarantee the anonymity of their sources. The Obama administration is also responsible for aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers that provide information to reporters.
In July 2013, the British government sent Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) agents to destroy the hard drives in the basement of The Guardian. After the newspaper refused to stop reporting on Edward Snowden and government surveillance, law enforcement officials detained Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, a month later at Heathrow Airport on charges of being a possible terrorist.
On October 16, 2014, ABC Color reporter Pablo Medina Velazquez and his assistant, Antonia Almada, were killed after reporting on drug trafficking along Paraguay’s border. Medina was shot five times including a shotgun blast to the face. State prosecutors have accused Vilmar Acosta Marques, the mayor of the border town of Ypehú, of orchestrating the murders before going into hiding. Acosta had threatened the journalist in 2010 after Medina’s articles linked the mayor to cocaine trafficking.
“There are lots of things I do not report on,” Raúl Ortíz, the host of a news program on local Radio Oasis, told CPJ. “I am very prudent because I fear for my life.”
In June 2014, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to between seven and ten years in prison on trumped up charges. Accused of smearing Egypt’s reputation and helping a terrorist organization, former BBC correspondent Peter Greste and ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy were sentenced to seven years each, while local producer Baher Mohamed received a sentence of ten years in prison. The judge also handed down ten-year sentences to Dutch journalist Rena Netjes and British journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane who were tried in absentia.
Evidence against the journalists included videos of a trotting horse by Sky News Arabia, a Somalia documentary from the BBC, and excerpts of a speech by a Kenyan government official. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry became especially embarrassed since the harsh sentences were handed down just a day after the U.S. government restored military and economic aid to Egypt.
While the NSA regularly colludes with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior, activist blogger Raif Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam on an online forum. The Saudi government shut down his website and began carrying out his sentence earlier this year by publicly flogging Badawi in front of a mosque before returning him to prison.
Numerous journalists have been murdered since Vladimir Putin ascended to power in Russia. On October 7, 2006, investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was shot to death in her apartment building in Moscow. She had been writing a book exposing Putin’s political corruption and multiple Chechen war crimes committed by the FSB. Her murder remains unsolved.
Natalya Estemirova, a frequent contributor to Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta who had worked with Politkovskaya, was abducted from her home in Chechnya on the morning of July 15, 2009. Witnesses reported seeing four unidentified assailants push Estemirova into a car as she screamed for help. Her body was later found with bullets wounds to the head and chest. She was the fifth Novaya Gazetajournalist killed since 2000.
On July 9, 2004, American journalist Paul Klebnikov was shot four times after leaving the Forbes office in Moscow. Shot by unknown assailants firing from a slowly moving car, Klebnikov died at the hospital when the elevator taking him to the operating room malfunctioned. As chief editor of the Russian edition of Forbes, Klebnikov had been investigating Russia’s wealthiest individuals at the time of his death. His murder remains unsolved.
In 2014, at least seven journalists and media workers were killed with impunity while covering the Ukrainian upheaval. Police only investigated one murder after a video surfaced of pro-government protestors beating journalist Vyacheslav Veremiy with baseball bats before shooting him in the chest. The assailants had pulled Veremiy out of a cab and attacked him because he was filming them. A key suspect was released into house arrest and disappeared before the trial.
On November 4, 2012, right-wing militants from Greece’s Golden Dawn party attacked SKAI TV reporter Michael Tezari at a demonstration against immigrants. The neo-Nazis beat him in the head before stealing his cellphone and press card while the police allegedly stood by watching. On July 4, 2014, Golden Dawn supporters viciously attacked photojournalists, Simela Pantartzi and Giannis Kemmos, in front of an Athens courthouse.
In August 2012, armed men kidnapped and tortured journalist Luis Cardona in Chihuahua, Mexico. They threatened to kill him and his family if he ever attempted to return home. On November 13, 2008, a gunmen murdered El Diario de Juárez crime reporter Armando Rodríguez Carreón while he was parked in his driveway with his 8-year-old daughter in the backseat.
In April 2014, an unknown assailant shot Geo News anchor Hamid Mir multiple times in Pakistan. No one has been charged with the murder attempt, but two arrest warrants have been issued against Mir for his reporting.
On November 2, 2011, Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris was firebombed after the French magazine released a satirical cover of Muhammad. On January 7, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi stormed into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and shot 12 people to death including eight journalists.
Since 2014, Islamic State has abducted and released videos of at least five beheaded journalists covering the wars in Iraq and Syria. American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Japanese reporters Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, and Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi have reportedly been executed by religious extremists conducting public beheadings.
In 2014, CPJ found that at least 221 journalists had been jailed worldwide. In contrast, only 81 journalists were imprisoned back in 2000. As the war on terror continues to escalate, both sides of the conflict are targeting journalists with alarming frequency. The battle to control information is costing the lives of intrepid reporters.
“Journalists are being caught in a terror dynamic, in which they are threatened by non-state actors who target them and governments that restrict civil liberties including press freedom in the name of fighting terror,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Attacks on the Press surveys this new landscape, providing insights into the myriad threats—from surveillance and self-censorship to violence and imprisonment—that make this the most deadly and dangerous period for journalists in recent history.”