A colleague of Shifa Gardi lights a candle in front of her portrait at Rudaw headquarters in Erbil. Gardi was killed in February 2017 while reporting on the Iraqi-led Mosul offensive against ISIS. File photo: AFP/Safin Hamed
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Syria and Iraq are among the top four deadliest countries for journalists and media workers, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international organization protecting and defending journalists, stated in their annual World Press Freedom Index report released on Tuesday, with the number of female journalist killed in the course of their work doubling in the past year.
“A total of 65 journalists (including professional journalists, citizen-journalists and media workers) were killed worldwide in 2017,” read the report from RSF, adding that 326 media workers remain imprisoned for their work.
Although there was a decrease in the number of deaths reported worldwide in 2017 of 65 compared to the death toll of 79 in 2016, the number of female media workers killed in the field doubled to a total of 10 up from five in 2016, with at least three female reporters being killed in Iraq.
Syria continued to be the world’s top deadliest country for journalists, which has been the case since 2012 with the ongoing civil war and rise of ISIS in 2014 with 12 journalists killed in 2017.
Like Syria, media workers in war-torn Iraq during the fight to retake the country from ISIS are often exposed to dangerous situations such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), missiles, suicide bombers or sniper fire which resulted in a total of eight deaths occurring in Iraq, including three foreign journalists during the past year.
The most well-known death of a reporter in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq was the loss of Rudaw correspondent Shifa Gardi, who was killed while working on a story about an ISIS mass grave south of Mosul in February. Her cameraman, Younis Mustafa, was injured in the explosion of an IED that killed Shifa and several Hashd al-Shaabi fighters.
Nuzhian Arhan, a Turkish citizen who was working for a news agency affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), died from wounds she sustained while covering clashes between the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga forces and the PKK-affiliate Shingal Protections Units (YBS) in Shingal, west of Mosul in March.
Kurdish journalist, Bakhtiyar Haddad, who worked with a French team as a fixer and interpreter, was killed in a bombing in the Old City of Mosul in June. Two foreign reporters working for French channels also succumbed to wounds received during the same bombing that killed Haddad - French reporter Stephan Villeneuve and Swiss reporter Veronique Robert.
In October, following the military takeover of Kirkuk from Peshmerga by Iraqi troops and Hashd al-Shaabi fighters, Arkan Sharifi, a Kurdish cameraman working with the Erbil-based Kurdistan TV was stabbed to death by a number of unidentified gunmen in the town of Daquq south of Kirkuk.
RSF also reported that two more journalists who worked for the Iraqi pro-government TV broadcaster, Hona Salaheddin, were targeted and killed by ISIS fighters, although their names or dates of death were not reported.
In addition to the 65 deaths reported, RSF also states that 326 media workers remain imprisoned as of December 1, 2017, with nearly half of those being held in just five countries, including nearly one-third, or approximately 100 journalists being held in detention in Turkey.
Turkey has been described by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the “world’s worst jailer of journalists” especially following the failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.
“Impunity thrives in conflict environments, where powerful actors often use violent intimidation to control media coverage, while weak-to-nonexistent law and order increases the likelihood of attacks,” CPJ stated in its annual report published last month.
Thirty-four journalists have been killed with impunity in Iraq over the past decade, according to CPJ. “Iraq has failed to fully prosecute a single killing of a journalist,” the advocacy group stated.
Iraq ranks third on CPJ's Global Impunity Index highlighting countries where deaths of journalists go unpunished.