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World: Journalism Became Even More Deadly, Dangerous In 2001

Of the 60 journalists in the world who died on the job last year, eight met their deaths in Russia, Eastern, or Central Europe. The World Association of Newspapers says the most dangerous place for news workers in 2001 was Latin America, where 16 journalists were killed. War-blighted Afghanistan claimed eight lives. In a conversation with RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill, WAN's spokesman provides details about some of the murders of news reporters and editors in our broadcast area.

Prague, 24 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Television editor Igor Aleksandrov died in July in Ukraine after assailants beat him with baseball bats. After an investigation, police concluded the assault was a case of mistaken identity. But according to the European Institute for the Media, a Ukrainian parliamentary committee believes investigators are merely covering up for the murderers.

In September, newspaper editor and publisher Eduard Markevich was shot in the back in the Russian town of Reftinsky near Yekaterinburg. His newspaper, "Novy Reft," often criticized local officials and his colleagues say he had received telephone threats. The police have named no suspects in the case.

These two journalists were among eight from Russia, Central and Eastern Europe to die on the job last year. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN), says in an annual report that covering news remains a hazardous business in many parts of the world. WAN says 60 reporters, editors, and other news workers died violently in 2001. The number in 2000 was 53.

WAN spokesman Larry Kilman says that over the last five years the number of journalists killed at work has risen and fallen, with war being the main variable. Eight newspeople died late last year while covering the war in Afghanistan.

"There were 60 journalists killed [in 2001], and there were 53 killed [in 2000]. As you can see, the difference was pretty much the war in Afghanistan."

Milan Pantic, a reporter for the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti," died after two assailants beat him outside his apartment building in Jagodina in June. He had been reporting extensively on local corruption and had received telephone threats. Local authorities say they've made no progress in the murder investigation.

Georgian television personality Georgi Sanaya was shot in the head and killed in his apartment in July. He was a popular daily program host. President Eduard Shevardnadze called publicly for a full investigation, and police have charged a former police officer. But the European Institute for the Media says a number of inconsistencies in the police version of the murder remain unresolved.

In Kosovo in October, reporter Bekim Kastrati of the Albanian-language "Bota Sot" was shot and killed while riding in his car. Another passenger was killed and a third was wounded. "Bota Sot" supports Kosovar presidential hopeful Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo. Local authorities say the investigation remains open.

In November, Gundars Matise, an investigative reporter for the Latvian daily "Kurzemes Vards," was assaulted and beaten with a metal rod. He later died of the injuries. As in most of the other cases, police have come up with no suspects.

WAN's report also lists one journalist's death in Iraq. Jamil Bandi Rozhbayeni's mutilated body was found in his home in Baghdad in March. The Human Rights Alliance reports that three men from the Iraq Information Service earlier had conveyed to him a message from President Saddam Hussein about articles Rozhbayeni had written regarding the ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Iraq's Khanagin and Mandali regions.

WAN's Kilman says one of the factors that endangers journalists is the general failure of officials to launch adequate investigations into the murder cases.

"Unfortunately, a lot of these cases are not investigated as we think they should be. One of the reasons we keep this list is to bring it to public attention and also to put pressure on governments to make sure there is a thorough investigation in every case of a journalist being killed."

Of course, journalists sometimes die violently simply because they put themselves in hazardous situations or for reasons only incidentally connected with news work.

Associated Press television correspondent Karem Lawton died last year from shrapnel wounds sustained when a shell struck his car in Krienik, a village on the Macedonia-Kosovo border. A gunman shot dead Oleh Breus, publisher of a regional weekly newspaper in Ukraine in June. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Breus was a high Communist Party functionary, and his newspaper generally reflected his business and political interests and did no investigative reporting.

WAN spokesman Kilman says free-press advocates worry most when newspeople die as a direct result of their work.

"If they're being killed for their work, it is the ultimate form of censorship."

The ultimate instance of that, Kilman says, occurred last year in Columbia, where evidence indicates that journalists were systematically hunted down and murdered in an attempt to silence the press. Ten newspeople died last year in Columbia, all under circumstances that indicated they had been murdered because of their work.