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Iraq War Said To Be Deadliest Ever For Journalists

(AFP) December 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A new report says violence in Iraq claimed the lives of 32 journalists in 2006, the deadliest year for representatives of the media in a single country that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has ever recorded.

The CPJ started tracking death tolls in 1992. All but two of the 32 killed were Iraqi journalists.

The New York-based group said that worldwide, 55 journalists were killed in 2006. The deaths of an additional 27 journalists are being investigated to see if the deaths were work related. In 2005, the death toll was 47.

The second-most-deadly countries for reporters in 2006 were Afghanistan and the Philippines, each of which saw three journalist deaths, according to CPJ. Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, and Colombia each had two deaths.

The independent journalism watchdog group was founded in 1981. It compiles and analyzes journalists' deaths and seeks to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

The CPJ report said four journalists in Iraq died in 2006 in crossfire or other acts of war. It said the other 28 victims were first kidnapped and then killed. About half received threats before they were abducted.

The report said the deadliest single attack on journalists in Iraq occurred on October 12, when masked gunmen stormed the Baghdad offices of the satellite television channel Al-Shababiyah and killed 11 people, including five journalists.

'Eyes And Ears Of The World'

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon told RFE/RL that the deaths of journalists reflect the complete deterioration of the traditional status of reporters as natural observers in times of war. And he said their deaths are more than a terrible loss of life.

"Really there's something much larger at stake. These are the journalists who are the eyes and ears of the world," Simon said.

"Western reporters are simply not able to move around freely in Iraq and so it's Iraqi journalists who are out there gathering the news," he added. "They're doing that at great peril. That they're targeted and murdered should be of concern to everyone because this means news about a vital story is not getting out to the public."

Simon says insurgents now routinely target journalists for perceived affiliation and sentiments, such as being pro-Western.

No Fear Of Being Caught

In Russia, the highest-profile killing in 2006 was that of Anna Politkovskaya, a respected investigative journalist and well-known critic of President Vladimir Putin. She was killed execution-style on October 7.

"The way in which the internationally renowned journalist was gunned down in this kind of brazen fashion at the front door of her apartment building in Moscow sends a chilling message about the way in which the enemies of press freedom are able to act in Russia today," Simon said. "The people who carried out this terrible crime did it without concern that they might be apprehended."

Politkovskaya was one of eight female journalists killed in 2006.

In Turkmenistan, reporter Ogulsapar Muradova of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty died in prison in September under unexplained circumstances. She was a critic of President Saparmurat Niyazov.

In a separate report, released December 19, the Geneva-based Press Emblem Campaign said 94 journalists died in the course of their work in 2006, up from 68 deaths in 2005. Of those, it said, 48 were killed in Iraq.

The reasons behind the disparity in figures released by the CPJ and the Press Emblem Campaign are not known.

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