Somalia is the world’s most dangerous nation for journalists, followed by Syria, Iraq, and S. Sudan.
According to CPJ’s annual Global Impunity Index, which highlights nations where members of the press are targeted for murder and the culprits walk free, Somalia remains the world’s worst country for unsolved journalist homicides.
The index showed little improvement from a year ago, with Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan, in that order, once again trailing Somalia to hold the worst four slots on the list, as war, political instability, and poor legal systems continue a cycle of violence against journalists.
However, the most recent statistics – which covers the period from September 1, 2011, to August 31, 2021 – does not completely represent the heightened dangers faced by Afghan journalists. Afghanistan came in fifth place, as it did the previous two years.
While the country’s ranking on the index remained unchanged, the situation on the ground for journalists worsened rapidly in 2021, when the Taliban seized power in mid-August with the departure of US and coalition troops and the escape of President Ashraf Ghani.
Hundreds of journalists left the nation, fearful of the Taliban’s record of repression of press freedom and the consequences of its reign for journalist safety.
Justice for the 17 journalists slain in Afghanistan over the 10-year index period was already difficult, and impunity for assassins in Afghanistan may now become as entrenched as it is in Somalia and other top-ranked countries.
Afghanistan’s legal system is disintegrating, according to reports from the nation, with courts closing, attorneys leaving the country, and female judges driven into hiding. Furthermore, Taliban officials seem to be even less inclined than the previous administration in Afghanistan to react to local and international appeals to change the country’s culture of impunity for atrocities against journalists.
The Taliban’s leadership’s promises to guarantee press freedom fell flat within days of the takeover, as its fighters committed a slew of breaches against media employees, including beatings and arbitrary detentions.
And, considering that at least two of the five journalists killed in 2020 – Radio Azadi reporter Elyas Dayee and freelancer Rahmatullah Nikzad – had received Taliban threats previous to their executions, it is unlikely that Afghanistan’s new Taliban government would pursue the assassins.
Afghan journalists continue to be attacked by Islamic State extremists. The organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb assault on the media in April 2018 that killed at least nine journalists, as well as retaliatory killings of journalists such as Malalai Maiwand in late 2020. In the weeks after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s local offshoot, claimed responsibility for a number of devastating assaults, including one at Kabul airport and others targeting the Taliban.
During the 10-year index period, which included Syria’s civil war, major uprisings against Arab regimes, and assaults on media workers by extremist organizations and organized crime syndicates, 278 journalists were killed for their job throughout the globe. CPJ documented full impunity in 226 of the instances, or 81 percent, indicating that no one was convicted in connection with the crime.
CPJ discovered that 83 percent of journalist killings went unresolved during the preceding index period (September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2020), following a recent pattern of gradual improvement in solving cases. CPJ discovered in “The Road to Justice,” a 2014 investigation into the reasons of impunity in journalist killings and potential remedies, that the perpetrators walked free in nine out of ten incidents between 2004 and 2013.
To demonstrate the pervasiveness of this lack of accountability, all 12 nations on the index have appeared several times since CPJ began ranking the data in 2008, with seven appearing each year.
Mexico is ranked sixth on the index for the second year in a row. Despite important convictions in the 2020 and 2021 killings of journalists Javier Valdez Cárdenas and Miroslava Breach Velducea, the media is still being targeted at an alarming pace. According to CPJ analysis as of August 31, at least three journalists will be killed in Mexico for their profession with full impunity in 2021; four will be murdered in 2020, second only to the number slain in Afghanistan.
At least 22 journalists were targeted for death in reprisal for their work in 2020, more than double the figure in 2019. The number of murders in 2021 is expected to be similar to last year’s, but political unrest in Afghanistan and other high-risk countries makes the ultimate total impossible to estimate.
Bangladesh moved up one rank in the rating this year, to 11th, after convictions in the 2015 killings of secular blogger Avijit Roy and his publisher, Faisal Arefin Dipan, in February.
For their participation in the murders, many members of the outlawed terrorist organization Ansar al-Islam were condemned to death. (The CPJ opposes the death penalty and has asked Bangladesh to provide “humane” sentences on appeal.)
Sentencings or favorable developments in two more high-profile murder cases involving nations not featured on the index occurred in 2021.
In Malta, businessman Yorgen Fenech was accused in August for his suspected participation in the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a move that the victim’s sister, Corrine Vella, hailed “a watershed moment in the search of justice.” One of the suspected murderers pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in jail for Caruana Galizia’s murder in February.
In June, the Supreme Court of Slovakia overturned two defendants’ acquittals in the 2018 murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, reversing a setback in the pursuit of justice for another journalist who, like Caruana Galizia, was killed for his reporting on corruption in the European Union.