BEIRUT – 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 journalists' 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 racked by unrest and sectarian violence, remains along with Somalia and the Philippines the worst places on the 2014 Index. A 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, it added.
Syria joined the list for the first time this year. 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 and dangerous assignments in the past three years, according to CPJ. Moreover, 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 adds a chilling new threat to the mix, according to a report released Wednesday entitled "Getting Away With Murder."
It said at least seven journalists were fatally targeted in Syria since 2012, all with complete impunity. The perpetrators come from all sides: Foreign Islamic extremists, rebels targeting pro-government media, and President Bashar Assad's forces.
Victims include reporters for citizen media outlets like Abdel Karim al-Oqda, a contributor to Shaam News Network, a citizen news organization that has posted tens of thousands of videos documenting the unrest since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Al-Oqda died when security forces burned his home in retaliation for his coverage of the unrest, CPJ said.
"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.
Three Lebanese members of a TV crew from the Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV were shot dead this week by gunmen in Syria while covering the Syrian army's capture of a Christian town north of Damascus.
Al-Manar said it was not clear if the three were targeted, adding they were traveling in a convoy clearly marked as press.