Media death toll down but arrests and attacks on rise

O’Hagan: murdered in September

Fewer journalists were killed in 2001 but many more were arrested, attacked or threatened compared with the previous year, according to press freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres in its year-end report.

Thirty-one journalists were killed in 2001, just one fewer than in 2000, but the number of arrests soared to 489 compared with just 329 the previous  year, an increase of almost 50 per cent.

The number of journalists attacked or threatened rose to 716, up by more  than 40 per cent on the previous tally of 510. The number imprisoned rose sharply to 110.

RSF says that almost one-third of the world’s population lives in countries where there is no press freedom. The situation deteriorated badly in many countries (Bangladesh, Eritrea, Haiti, Nepal and Zimbabwe, among others), whereas very few regimes made progress in terms of press freedom.

Of the 31 journalists killed, 15 of them were murdered by armed groups or militias. In at least three cases, the authorities were partly responsible.

Nine press professionals were killed in armed conflicts, eight in Afghanistan alone. Ten media support staff also died during the year. Asia was the deadliest continent for journalists with 14 deaths.

In the Americas, there were 10 journalists and 10 support staff killed in the year, including a radio journalist hacked to death with machetes in Haiti.

In the US, a journalist and eight technicians died in the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Another reporter died after receiving a letter contaminated with anthrax. Three journalists were murdered in Colombia.

Seven journalists were killed in Europe. The report highlights the murder of Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan by a loyalist paramilitary gunman last September.

Other journalists were murdered in the Ukraine, Kosovo and in Spain’s Basque country. Nearly half the 110 journalists imprisoned are held in Asia with the countries holding most journalists being Iran (18), Burma (18) and China (12).

More than 700 journalists were attacked or threatened. "War veterans" have attacked reporters working for the independent press in Zimbabwe.

Whether committed by authorities, political party activists, armed bands or criminals, these attacks are almost never seriously investigated, claims the RSF.

The report also concludes: "In almost all cases journalists were murdered with impunity since virtually no cases have been solved."

By Jon Slattery

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