Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says attacks on journalists are becoming “more and more barbaric” and the number of abductions is “growing rapidly.”
In its annual report released on December 16, the Paris-based group says 66 reporters have been killed in connection to their work over the past year, down 7 percent on 2013 thanks largely to fewer deaths in countries "at peace."
But it also says the beheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State extremist group in Syria highlights the danger journalists face in covering conflicts.
RSF says the report highlights “an evolution in the nature of violence against journalists and the way certain kinds, including carefully staged threats and beheadings, are being used for very clear purposes."
"Rarely have reporters been murdered with such a barbaric sense of propaganda, shocking the entire world," it adds.
The report found that the deadliest country for journalists was Syria, where 15 were killed, followed by the Palestinian territories (7), Ukraine (6), Iraq (4), and Libya (4).
Three journalists were killed in Afghanistan, two in Pakistan (2), and one in Russia.
Meanwhile, kidnappings rose 37 percent to 119 in the past year.
Thirty-three of them were abducted in Ukraine, where pro-government forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists since April, 29 in Libya, and 27 in Syria.
About 40 journalists are still being held hostage worldwide.
According to the report, 90 percent of those abducted were local journalists.
For instance, all of the eight journalists currently held hostage in Iraq are Iraqis.
Worldwide, a total of 178 professional journalists were in prison as of December 8, the same number, as last year.
China is the country where most journalists were jailed in the past year (29), followed by Eritrea (28), Iran (19), Egypt (16), and Syria (13).
Ten journalists were imprisoned in Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, and four in Russia.
The report describes Azerbaijan as "Europe's biggest prison for media personnel" and highlights the case of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL who is in pretrial detention.
"Now she is being held on the absurd charge of 'pushing' a former colleague to attempt suicide, a charge that carries a possible sentence of three to seven years in jail," it says.
Due to conflicts and "diverse forms of intimidation," RWB says, twice as many journalists fled into exile this year, as in 2013.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP