Reporters Without Borders denounces ‘unprecedented scale’ of journalist deaths in Gaza war

According to the international organization’s report, 17 media workers have been killed in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the course of their reporting

Reporteros Guerra Israel Gaza
Relatives and colleagues of Palestinian journalists Sari Mansour and Hasona Saliem, who were killed while working, in Gaza, on November 19, 2023. Ali Jadallah (Anadolu / Getty Images)
Diego Stacey

Since the start of the war in Gaza on October 7, 17 journalists have been killed in the exercise of their duties — 13 in Palestine and three in Lebanon due to Israeli attacks, and another in Israel, during the Hamas attack. That’s according to the annual report of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which was published on Thursday. The international organization say the figures show the “unprecedented scale of the tragedy for journalism in Gaza.” Despite these terrible figures, the global downward trend has made 2023 — with a total of 45 deaths — the least deadly year for reporters in two decades.

“This 2023 has been a catastrophic year due to the massacre of journalists in Gaza, which we will not be able to forget,” Alfonso Bauluz, president of RSF Spain, said in a statement. The report — which includes data up to December 1 — lists the journalists who died in the course of their reporting. If all the journalists killed in circumstances unproven to be related to their duties are taken into account, the number rises to 63, according to RSF — a number supported by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In October, the RSF filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes for the murder of nine Palestinian journalists and one Israeli reporter. It also denounced the “deliberate” destruction of buildings that housed more than 50 media outlets in Gaza. This was the third time that RSF filed a complaint with the ICC prosecutor about war crimes committed against Palestinian journalists in Gaza since 2018.

Following the RSF report, Irene Khan, U.N. special rapporteur for freedom of expression, said that journalism “is under attack.” “Despite the responsibility to protect journalists, I have been told that wearing a jacket with the word ‘press’ on it, far from protecting them, often makes them a target,” Khan explains in a message to EL PAÍS. According to Khan, “the courage and resilience” of media workers had rarely been put to the test “in a more terrible and tragic way than in Gaza.”

Even with the conflict in Gaza — which RSF said was the “deadliest start to a war since 2000” — last year was the least deadly for journalists since 2002. During the first 11 months, 45 journalists were murdered, 26.2% less than the previous year. This downward trend is explained, according to the report, by “security improvements” for journalists in Latin America, where the number fell from 26 to six in a single year.

Journalists who have died during the war in Gaza since the beginning of the conflict on October 7.
Journalists who have died during the war in Gaza since the beginning of the conflict on October 7.Omar Zaghloul (Anadolu / Getty Images)

The case of Mexico is particularly striking; four reporters were murdered in 2023, less than half of the 11 who were killed the previous year. All of them had been investigating organized crime in the North American country. RSF warns that the decline in violence does not necessarily imply more guarantees for journalists, but that professionals “have been more systematic in calculating the risks to which they are exposed, which implies more self-censorship and the spread of information black holes.”

Journalists were also killed in Africa (Sudan, Mali and Cameroon), the Americas (Mexico, Colombia and Paraguay) and Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines). In Europe, two journalists died while covering the war in Ukraine in 2023. One of them was Arman Soldin, a Franco-Bosnian reporter for AFP, the only journalist to lose his life in a country other than his own in 2023.

Hundreds imprisoned

The new year will begin with 521 journalists imprisoned, 9% less than the 569 who were behind bars in 2022. One in four of the reporters in prison are in China (121) ― which is once again the world’s largest prison for journalists, with Uyghur media workers especially targeted. China is followed by Burma (68), Belarus (39) and Vietnam (36). More than half of imprisoned journalists are still pending trial.

In Russia, which has become increasingly repressive against opponents of the Kremlin, 28 reporters are behind bars, including American journalist Evan Gershkovich, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He was arrested in March on charges of espionage and has been held in solitary confinement in a Moscow prison. In October, Russian-American journalist Alsou Karmasheva, who worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was arrested for failing to declare herself a “foreign agent.”

Of the global number of incarcerated people, 67 are women. In Iran, Belarus and Burundi, six of the eight heaviest sentences were handed down to female journalists. RSF also highlights the situation in Iran, where five of the 31 women journalists remain imprisoned for their coverage of the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, which was followed Mahsa Amini’s death in September 2022, when she was in police custody. The Iranian regime has also detained activist Narges Mohammadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023.

The RSF warned that 54 journalists are being held hostage — half of whom were kidnapped by the Islamic State — and 84 reporters are missing, seven more than last year.

Friends and family mourn the bodies of Palestinian journalists Muhammad Sobh and Saeed Al-Taweel, who were killed during their work by Israeli airstrikes, on October 10, 2023, in Gaza City.
Friends and family mourn the bodies of Palestinian journalists Muhammad Sobh and Saeed Al-Taweel, who were killed during their work by Israeli airstrikes, on October 10, 2023, in Gaza City.Getty Images (Getty Images)

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