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Recent deaths of Syrian journalists cement Arab world's ranking as deadly region for journalists in 2011, say IFEX members

A deadly year for journalists covering political unrest: Cameraman Hassan al-Wadhaf died on 24 September 2011, five days after being struck by sniper fire while covering an anti-government protest in Sana'a, Yemen
A deadly year for journalists covering political unrest: Cameraman Hassan al-Wadhaf died on 24 September 2011, five days after being struck by sniper fire while covering an anti-government protest in Sana'a, Yemen

Citizen journalist Basil al-Sayed was fatally shot in the head by Syria's security forces while filming the 29 December bloodbath in Homs. Four days later, state journalist Shukri Ahmed Ratib Abu Burghul died in a Damascus hospital from a gunshot wound to the head received on 29 December while on his way home from work. Their murders - amid political unrest - cement the Middle East and North Africa's ranking as one of the world's most dangerous region for journalists in 2011. At least 18 work-related fatalities occurred in the volatile region last year, according to IFEX members.

"Journalists working in this environment are in no less danger than war correspondents covering an armed conflict," Ahmed Tarek, a reporter for the Middle East News Agency who was assaulted by police while covering protests in Alexandria, Egypt, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "The greatest danger journalists are facing today in post-revolution Arab countries is the targeting of journalists by political forces hostile to anyone who exposes them."

For example, CPJ had never recorded work-related deaths of journalists in Syria in the two decades they've been compiling data - until now, where three have died since November 2011.

Overall, CPJ records 45 journalists and five media workers killed worldwide in direct connection to their work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment in 2011, with the seven journalists' deaths in Pakistan marking the heaviest losses in a single nation.

CPJ's number - the lowest of all IFEX members' tallies - reflects its careful deliberation of whether a case is work-related. If the motives in a killing are unclear, CPJ classifies the case as "unconfirmed" and continues to investigate. Last year 35 journalists' deaths made the "unconfirmed list" - an "unusually high number… primarily because of the very murky situation in several Latin American countries, where the combination of crime, corruption, and utter lack of official investigation makes it extremely difficult to determine the motive," said CPJ's Joel Simon.

From IFEX's Journalists Killed Methodology Research Project

According to CPJ, targeted murders declined around the world, but deaths that occurred on dangerous assignments - such as while covering street protests - reached their highest level on record. Photographers and camera operators, often the most vulnerable during violent unrest, died at rates more than twice the historical average, says CPJ.

FULL REPORT: For journalists, coverage of political unrest proves deadly (CPJ)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also highlights the dangers to journalists in Syria, particularly in the cities of Homs, Damascus and Deraa, which RSF ranks among the world's worst places for journalists. Bashar al-Assad's "complete media blackout" has led to ordinary citizens "who risk their lives" to film and write about the pro-democracy protests, says RSF.

In its annual review, RSF counts at least 66 journalists killed in the line of duty around the world - a 16 percent increase from 2010. For the first time, RSF has compiled a list of the world's 10 most dangerous places for the media, "where journalists and netizens were particularly exposed to violence and where freedom of information was flouted."

Unsurprisingly, Middle East protest epicentres make up half the list: Manama, Bahrain; Tahrir Square in Egypt; Misrata, Libya; and Sana'a's Change Square in Yemen join the cities in Syria.

Election-related violence in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire; drug trafficking in Veracruz state, Mexico; fighting between security forces and armed separatists in Khuzdar, Pakistan; paramilitaries and private militias in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines; and the civil war in Mogadishu, Somalia, account for the rest of the top 10.

RSF also notes a doubling in the arrests of journalists - at least 1,044 in 2011 (compared to 535 in 2010) - mainly because of the Arab Spring uprisings and the protests movements they inspired worldwide.

FULL REPORT: The 10 most dangerous places for journalists (RSF)

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which compiles figures in cooperation with the International News Safety Institute (INSI), says that 106 journalists and media workers were killed last year, up from 94 in 2010. IFJ includes all journalists and media personnel killed because of their work. An additional 20 journalists and support staff also died in accidents and incidents resulting from natural disasters, says IFJ.

IFJ blames governments for failing to uphold their international obligations to protect the media against violence, which, in turn, contributes to a culture of impunity. In a letter to the UN Secretary General, IFJ wrote, "In a situation where governments are in denial or indifferent to what has become a regular pattern of targeted killings of journalists, it is incumbent upon yourself and the United Nations to remind them of their responsibility to protect journalists."

FULL REPORT: IFJ presses UN for action on media killings after violence claims 106 lives of journalists and media staff in 2011

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) counted 64 journalists killed - with 22 coming from the Middle East and North Africa. WAN-IFRA does not take into account media workers, or accidental deaths.

FULL REPORT: 64 media employees killed in 2011 (WAN-IFRA)

The International Press Institute (IPI) records 103 journalists and media staff in its Death Watch - those who were deliberately targeted because of their reporting or simply because they were journalists. IPI also includes journalists who were killed while on assignment, which it calls being "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Based on IPI's methodology, the single deadliest nation in 2011 for journalists was Mexico, with 10 journalists and media workers killed - many at the hands of drug cartels. This made Latin America the deadliest region, with a death toll of 36.

FULL REPORT: Deadly trends for journalists in 2011; 103 killed (IPI)

Against this background, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) concluded that 2011 "was one of the most 'challenging and tragic' years for the countries in the Americas" with 24 reporters killed, and reaffirmed its commitment to confront the next challenges. To this end, IAPA is planning on sending missions to and holding forums and training sessions in more than a dozen countries in 2012. IAPA also vowed to keep watch over the free expression arm of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which some governments have threatened to dissolve.

FULL REPORT: IAPA reviews state of press freedom in 2011 (IAPA)

Despite the range in numbers, the groups agree on a shared goal: "to highlight the price that journalists pay to bring us the news and to advocate for justice when journalists are harmed because of their work," said Simon.

To find out how IFEX members arrive at their numbers and review the benefits of different approaches, see IFEX's special report, Journalists Killed Methodology Research Project.

IFEX members' year-end reviews will be published online as they are made available.

See the following IFEX alerts for country or region-specific year-end analyses.

Middle East and North Africa: Historic opportunity for freedom of expression (ARTICLE 19)
Democratic Republic of Congo: The state of press freedom (Journaliste en danger) - French only
Somalia: Annual review of crimes against journalists (National Union of Somali Journalists)

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