NEW YORK -- Islamic militants hailing from groups such as Al Qaeda and the self-described Islamic State killed 28 journalists in 2015, according to a report released Tuesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists. That tally represents 40 percent of the total 69 journalists killed worldwide this past year.
CPJ Editorial Director Elana Beiser, who authored the report, wrote that the press advocacy organization is still investigating at least 24 additional killings and acknowledged the difficulty of confirming reports from Libya, Yemen and Iraq. Earlier this year, CPJ visited Iraq to investigate reports of as many as 35 journalists who were "missing, dead or held captive" in Mosul, an Iraqi city controlled by militants from the Islamic State, or ISIS.
"With the militant group’s stranglehold on information about the city, CPJ could confirm the deaths of only a handful," Beiser wrote. "Region-wide, CPJ has received reports of dozens more journalists killed, but is unable to independently confirm that the individuals have in fact died and, if so, whether journalistic work was the reason. Several of these journalists can be found on CPJ’s 'missing' list."
Though many major news organizations have stopped sending journalists to Syria, the war-ravaged country remained the deadliest for the fourth consecutive year, with 13 deaths.
Countries that are active war zones, like Syria, or led by regimes opposed to a free press typically top CPJ's annual list. However, France surprisingly ranked second in 2015 as a result of the November terrorist attacks in Paris and the January attack on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hedbo. Eight journalists were killed in the January massacre, and one was killed in November while covering the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theater, where attackers went on a shooting rampage.
The Islamic State's savage treatment of journalists has been witnessed before, with militants beheading several last year and disseminating videos of the killings for propaganda purposes. But Sherif Mansour, CPJ's program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said in an interview that militants in 2015 were also "crossing borders and ... delivering on their threats beyond their sphere of influence."
That happened not only in France, but also in Turkey. In October, Islamic State militants killed two Syrian journalists in Urfa, Turkey, one of whom was a member of "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," an anti-Islamic State citizen journalist collective that has bravely covered everything from air strikes to the brutality of daily life inside the terrorist group’s Syrian stronghold.
On Sunday, unknown assailants in Gaziantep, Turkey, killed Naji Jerf, an editor and documentary filmmaker who chronicled the Islamic State's atrocities. CPJ is still investigating the circumstances surrounding Jerf's death, and so his case was not included in the year-end report published Tuesday. In response to the recent killings, Mansour said he has been "getting a lot of frantic emails" from journalists in Turkey, some of whom he doesn't consider safe in that country.
In an interview, Mansour said the Islamic State's strength in using social media for recruiting and propaganda purposes "is also their weakness," given that groups like Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently can similarly harness such platforms to amplify the horrors of life under the terrorists' rule. He said that's why militants have specifically targeted members of the journalism organization, which CPJ honored last month with its International Press Freedom Award.
Islamic extremists also killed journalists in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Somalia this past year, according to the report.
In addition to 69 journalists who were killed, CPJ's report noted that governments have also jailed 110 -- of 199 total -- on charges of supporting terrorism or crimes against the state. The press worldwide, the report says, "is being squeezed by terrorists on the one hand and by authorities purporting to fight terror on the other."