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Analysis: A Year Of Writing Dangerously

An undated photo of Veranika Charkasava, who was found slain in her Minsk apartment Two media watchdogs have concluded that 2004 was among the deadliest years for journalists in recent history. The Committee to Protest Journalists (CPJ) made the most recent assessment, announcing in early December that 2004 has been the deadliest year for journalists in a decade. Fifty-four journalists had been killed as of 10 December -- the highest death toll since 1994, when 66 were killed, many in Algeria's civil war, Rwanda, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The World Association of Newspapers noted in November that 10 more journalists had died working this year than in all of 2003.

In October, Reporters Without Borders declared Iraq, specifically, as the most deadly place on earth for journalists in its "Third Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index" issued on 26 October ( According to CPJ, the vast majority of those killed in Iraq are Iraqi journalists, who were targeted by insurgents, caught in crossfire, or killed by the U.S. forces' fire.

In an interview with RFE/RL in November, Kajsa Tornroth, press-freedom director for the World Association of Newspapers, said she thinks the world is becoming inured to violence in general and to attacks on journalists in particular. In addition, she said too many autocratic governments contribute to extending this climate of violence -- especially to journalists.

"Especially with regard to the culture of impunity, I think that many, many governments are sending out very worrying signals to people in not trying to punish the murderers of journalists," Tornroth said. She said this growing callousness translates into an unspoken acceptance of attacks on journalists.
"I think that over the years, people who would like to attack or kill journalists have simply learned that this is something you can do and get away with."

"I think that over the years, people who would like to attack or kill journalists have simply learned that this is something you can do and get away with," Tornroth said. "I think that it's a thing that's been happening over a long period of year and now we're facing a situation where the numbers have just become drastic and we're facing a completely intolerable situation."

Belarusian Tragedy

One of the most recent journalists to be killed this year was Veranika Charkasava, a Belarusian journalist who was stabbed to death just outside her home in Minsk on 20 October. Charkasava, 44, worked for the trade-union newspaper "Solidarnost" and had previously worked for the independent newspapers "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and "Belarusskaya gazeta." According to the Moscow-based "Gazeta" on 22 October, not just her colleagues but a broader community in Belarus believe that her death was connected to her professional activities, in particular to a recent series of articles on the Belarusian KGB. Her articles, published under the rubric "The KGB Is Following You," explored the special service's activities in recent years, detailing the facts of the arrests of foreign citizens accused of espionage.

Charkasava started her journalistic career in television after finishing journalism school at Belarus State University, according to on 21 October. With the rise of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to power in 1994, she joined the opposition weekly "Imya" and after that worked only for independent publications, "Gazeta" reported. According to, Charkasava was considered one of the most professional journalists writing on social problems.

Investigators believe that Charkasava opened the door to her killer around 11 a.m. on 20 October. The killer stabbed her 20 times -- allegedly with her own kitchen knife -- as she tried to defend herself. According to Interfax, the local police believe that a personal quarrel was the most likely cause. An unidentified high-ranking Belarusian Interior Ministry source told the agency that "somebody who is planning a murder usually has the weapon with them."

However, colleagues at "Solidarnost" who wished to remain anonymous, told "Gazeta" that all of her friends and acquaintance were well known to them and she did not consort with drunks, bums, drug addicts, or criminals. "She was a very open, honest, decent person without any conflicts with anyone," according to "Gazeta." One unidentified colleague speculated that the series of "exposes" on the KGB could have been a reason for retaliation. Speaking on the record to, deputy editor of "Solidarnost" Maryna Zahorskaya seemed to dismiss this possibility saying that the articles "did not unearth new pieces of information which nobody knew but were simply an analysis based on known facts." She also described Charkasava as closed person who kept to herself and select group of friends.

In the meantime, international groups such as Reporters Without Borders and PEN Canada have asked for an independent investigation of Cherkasava's killing. But such an investigation is not likely to be forthcoming, perhaps further reinforcing the "culture of impunity" that Tornroth identified.

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