As of mid-December, 58 journalists were killed in the line of duty throughout the world in 2005. This figure is more than double the number of deaths recorded only three years ago.
The war in Iraq is largely the cause, according to statistics from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media watch dog agency based in Paris. At least 24 journalists from various countries lost their lives during the fighting in 2005.
Overall, more journalists died in 2005 than in any recent year. RSF reports that 53 journalists were killed in 2004, compared to 40 in 2003 and 25 in 2002. In addition, during the past year, five media assistants were killed and a total of 115 journalists remained in prison around the globe.
China detained 32 journalists, the largest number of any nation. Cuba was second with 24 journalists imprisoned, followed by Eritrea (12 journalists), Ethiopia (8), Iran (5) and Iraq (4). Many of these reporters and editors are serving sentences that span one to two decades.
The individual stories of those who are serving time in unsanitary and confined jails are heartbreaking. Even more tragic are the reports of those who have been killed.
Below are several accounts, compiled from RSF files, about journalists who died trying to enlighten the world with news and commentary. We pay tribute to their lives and efforts, given in the name of freedom of the press.
* Abdel Hussein Khazaal, 40, was gunned down outside his house in Basra, Iraq on Feb. 9. His 3-year-old son, Mohammed, also was killed in the attack. Khazaal was a correspondent for Al-Hurra, an Arabic-language television station financed by the United States.
* Saleh Ibrahim, 30, came under fire from unidentified gunmen as he arrived on the scene of an explosion on April 23 in Mosul, Iraq. He was an Iraqi cameraman and the father of five children.
* Jassim Al Qais, a journalist with the Iraqi daily Al Siyada, was shot on June 22 along with his son as they traveled on a road north of Baghdad.
* Hind Ismail, a female reporter with the Iraqi daily Al-Safir, was gunned down by men wearing police uniforms on Sept. 20 in the center of Mosul, Iraq.
* Steven Vincent, an American freelance journalist, was abducted and shot on Aug. 2 in Basra, Iraq. Vincent wrote for U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor.
* Kate Peyton, 39, a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp., was shot in the back by masked men in a white taxi shortly after 3 p.m. Feb. 9 in southern Mogadishu, Somalia.
* Marlene Garcia Esperat, 45, a newspaper columnist with the weekly Midland Review, was shot in the head in her home in front of her 10-year-old daughter by two gunmen on March 24 in Tacurong, the Philippines.
* Jacques Roche, a literary critic and section editor of the daily Le Matin, was found dead on a Port-au-Prince, Haiti, street July 14. His body had been handcuffed to a chair. Roche had been shot several times and his body bore signs of torture.
* Guadalupe García Escamilla, a broadcaster for station Estéreo 91 XHNOE in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, was shot nine times by un unidentified gunman outside the radio station on April 5. She died of her injuries April 16.
* Gebran Tueni, 47, the CEO of the Arabic-language daily An-Nahar and a member of the Lebanese parliament, was slain in a car-bomb explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on Dec. 12. He was married and the father of four daughters.
* Shaima Rezayee, 24, a former host with the privately owned television station Tolo TV, was shot in the head in a Kabul, Afghanistan, neighborhood May 18.
These 11 men and women -– along with 47 other journalists -– gave their lives in 2005 for a cause that is much larger than any one individual. As colleagues and friends, let us honor their commitment with that of our own.
“With so much mayhem and death around the world,” said Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center, “there is a tendency in the public mind to give only passing notice to the danger daily confronted by journalists committed to bringing news of that very mayhem and death to their doors. Even the press itself sometimes temporizes in its coverage of the hardships and risks faced by journalists in order not to appear self-absorbed.
“One would hope that someday political leaders at least would acknowledge the vital service at high cost that the press provides day in, day out to the cause of an informed public,” he adds.
May all of us continue our fight for freedom of the press both at home and abroad in the new year.
Bruce C. Swaffield is a professor of graduate studies in journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. In addition to working as a professional journalist for many years in South Florida, Swaffield has been teaching journalism and writing since 1983. He is a member of the SPJ International Journalism Committee