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JOURNALIST DEATH TOLL SURPASSES 100 ONLY HALFWAY THROUGH YEAR, INSI REPORTS

More than 100 journalists have lost their lives in the past six months, their death toll looking to surpass the record level reached in 2006, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) reports.

"This is a shocking development. We have never known such a high death toll halfway through a year, and we fear for what might be to come," says INSI director Rodney Pinder.

According to INSI, 72 of the casualties worldwide over the past six months were murdered, including prominent cases such as Hrant Dink, the high-profile editor of an Armenian newspaper in Turkey who was shot outside his office in Istanbul, freelance photographer Edward Chikombo, whose badly beaten body was found in roadside bushes in Zimbabwe, and Ajmal Naqshbandi and Syed Agha, kidnapped with Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Mastrogiacomo was released unharmed.

"Most of the dead were little known outside their own countries where they were targeted for trying to do their daily jobs," says Pinder.

While most jounalists' attackers go unpunished - nearly 90 percent, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) - in a surprise move seven men were jailed in China last week for killing investigative reporter Lan Chengzhang, who died in early January after he was beaten for covering a story on an illegal coal mine in Shanxi province, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reports.

Iraq once again is the deadliest hotspot - accounting for 42 journalists and media workers killed this year alone, up from 28 at the same time last year. The great majority of them were local Iraqi journalists murdered by unidentified assailants. According to INSI, four more journalists were killed in Iraq last week, bringing the total to 214 media workers who have died in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003.

Poet and journalist Rahim al-Maliki, host of two cultural programmes on Al-Iraqiya TV, was one of 13 killed in a suicide bombing on the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad on 25 June while covering a meeting of tribal chiefs, reports Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

The following day, veteran reporter Hamed Sarhan was ambushed and killed in Baghdad as he was driving home, says RSF. Sarhan had worked for more than 30 years for the state-owned news agency until the US-led invasion of Iraq. Since then, he had worked for the private news agency Iraquion.

ARTICLE 19 reports that Zena Shakir Mahmoud, a journalist for the Kurdish Party newspaper "Al-Haqiqa" and a former news presenter for an Iraqi radio station, was shot dead in Mosul on her way home on 24 June.

And Luay Suleiman, a Christian reporter working with newspaper "Nineveh al-Hurra" in Mosul, was found dead on 27 June, allegedly killed by gunmen, says INSI.

Since the report's launch on 28 June, two more journalists in Iraq, correspondents for the Iraqi Islamic Party-owned television station Baghdad TV, have been found dead. Mohammed Hilal Karji was kidnapped outside of his home on 8 June as he was getting ready for work, RSF reports. His body was found in the morgue the next day. Sarmad Hamdi al-Hassani was kidnapped in his home in Baghdad on 27 June; his body was also found in the morgue the following day.

After Iraq, the countries where most journalists were murdered in the first half of this year were Afghanistan (five), Haiti and Philippines, each with four dead, Somalia, Palestine and India (three) and Sri Lanka, Mexico and Brazil (two).

As a news safety organisation, INSI records all manner of deaths - from murder to accident - of all members of the news gathering and production business, whether staff or freelance, provided they appear to have died as a result of their work. Numbers reported by other IFEX members may differ as they maintain their own records based on their own criteria.

Visit these links:
- INSI: http://www.newssafety.com/stories/insi/death07.htm
- INSI's directory of journalists and media workers killed: http://www.newssafety.com/casualties/2007.htm
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/killed/killed_archives/stats.html
- IFJ on Chengzhang: http://tinyurl.com/yqwv5b
- RSF on Iraq: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22730
- RSF on Baghdad TV reporters: http://tinyurl.com/ypzhfu
- ARTICLE 19 on Mahmoud: http://tinyurl.com/29bu6g
- ARTICLE 19 report on gender-sensitive reporting in Iraq/conflict situations: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/iraq-gender-report-public.pdf
(Photo: Afghan media worker Syed Agha, kidnapped and killed by the Taliban in March 2007. Photo courtesy of Thomas Coghlan/RSF)

(3 July 2007)

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