Journalist Jagendra Singh.
India was the deadliest country in Asia to be a journalist in 2015 with nine journalists murdered over the course of the year, according to a report by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The country saw five journalists killed in the course of their work, some for reporting on organized crime and its links with politicians and others for covering illegal mining operations. Four were killed for as-yet unknown reasons.
“Their deaths confirm India’s position as Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan,” RSF said, urging the Indian government to establish “a national plan for protecting journalists”.
Among those killed was Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist who reported critically on politics and current affairs in Hindi-language newspapers and on Facebook.
Mr Singh died from burn injuries he sustained after a police raid at his home on June 1. While being treated in hospital for burns covering more than half of his body, Singh made a statement to a police officer, Amitabh Thakur, in which he said another police officer, Sriprakash Rai, had doused him in petrol and set him on fire.
Mr Singh also accused Ram Murti Singh Verma, a local politician of “unleashing a reign of terror” on him and his family in reprisal for his investigative reports and critical comments against the minister.
In Bangladesh, four secularist bloggers were killed in acts claimed by local jihadists.
Among the victims was the US-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy whose brutal murder on a busy street in the capital Dhaka caused widespread outrage.
A bloodied Rafida Ahmed, wife of US-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy, gestures moments after Mr Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street.
“The passivity of the Bangladeshi authorities in the face of this bloodbath has fostered a climate of impunity that is extremely dangerous for citizen journalists,” RSF said.
A total of 110 journalists were killed around the world in 2015, the RSF report said, noting noting that while many died in war zones the majority were killed in supposedly peaceful countries.
Sixty-seven journalists were killed in the line of duty this year, the watchdog group said in its annual roundup, listing war-torn Iraq and Syria as most dangerous places for journalists with 11 and 10 fatalities respectively, followed by France, where eight journalists were killed in a jihadist assault on the satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’.
A further 43 journalists around the world died in circumstances that were unclear and 27 non-professional “citizen-journalists” and seven other media workers were also killed, RSF said.
The high toll is “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel, the report said, calling for the United Nations to take action.
In particular, the report shed light on the growing role of “non-state groups” — often jihadists such as the Islamic State group — in perpetrating atrocities against journalists.
In 2014, it said, two-thirds of the journalists killed were in war zones. But in 2015, it was the exact opposite, with “two-thirds killed in countries ‘at peace’.”
“Non-state groups perpetrate targeted atrocities while too many governments do not comply with their obligations under international law,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said.
“The 110 journalists killed this year need a response that matches the emergency. A special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for the safety of journalists must be appointed without delay.”
The 67 deaths bring to 787 the total number of journalists who were murdered, knowingly targeted or killed in the course of their work since 2005, the Paris-based organisation said. In 2014, there were 66 such fatalities.
France was the scene of an unprecedented attack on the press in January, when gunmen opened fire at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including eight journalists.
“It was an unprecedented tragedy,” RSF said. “A western country had never suffered a massacre of this kind in the past.
“Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and employees have been living under close protection ever since. Some of them still have to keep changing their place of residence.”
In Syria, the northern town of Aleppo was described as “a minefield” for professional and citizen-journalists alike.
“Caught between the various parties to the conflict since 2011, journalists are liable to end up as collateral victims, being taken hostage by a non-state group (such as Islamic State, the Al Nusra Front or the Free Syrian Army) or being arrested by the Assad regime,” RSF said.
Those murdered in Syria included Japanese freelance reporter Kenji Goto, whose execution by the Islamic State group was unveiled in a macabre video in January.
The report also placed the spotlight on 54 journalists who were held hostage at the end of 2015, 26 of them in Syria, and 153 journalists who were in prison, 23 of them in China and 22 in Egypt.