A spike in targeted murders of journalists in Syria landed the war-shattered country for the first time on the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual Impunity Index, joining a list of countries where journalist killings are most likely to go unpunished, the international watchdog said Wednesday.
CPJ said the murders add a new threat to the mix in Syria, already deemed the most dangerous place in the world for journalists to do their jobs, with unprecedented numbers of abductions and high rates of fatalities in combat and crossfire.
Iraq, another Middle Eastern country wracked by unrest and sectarian violence, remains on the list along with Somalia and the Philippines as the worst places on the 2014 Index. One hundred journalists have been murdered in Iraq in the past decade, all with impunity, CPJ said. After a respite in 2012, nine murders took place last year.
Syria joined the list for the first time this year as a surge in militant groups operating in the country has made it increasingly dangerous for journalists, both local and international, to cover the conflict, leading many news organizations to suspend reporting trips to opposition-held northern and eastern Syria, deeming it no longer worth the risk.
More than 60 journalists have been killed by crossfire in the past three years, according to CPJ. At least 61 were kidnapped in Syria in 2013, most by rebel forces, it said. Some of the journalists have since escaped or been released.
Deliberate murder added a new chilling dimension to the mix, according to the report, which said at least seven journalists were fatally targeted in Syria since 2012. The perpetrators were not punished in any of the murders.
The perpetrators come from all sides: Foreign rebel fighters, rebels targeting pro-government media, and President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
"In too many countries, the climate of impunity engenders further violence and deprives citizens — global as well as local — of their basic right to information," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
The violence has continued in 2014. Just this week, three Lebanese members of a TV crew from the Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV were shot dead by gunmen in Syria while covering the Syrian army's capture of a Christian town north of Damascus.
The Associated Press