It was not a good year for journalists. Reporters were harassed, arrested and even killed for doing their jobs. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 45 journalists were killed in 2018 because of their work.
Reporters Without Borders put the figure slightly higher, saying more professional journalists were killed in connection with their work in the first nine months of 2018 than in all of 2017.
Press-freedom groups warn of worsening conditions in places where a free press has been a pillar of civil society, including parts of Europe and the United States. “This has been one of the worst years of press freedom,” said Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists. There are too many threats, arrests and killings to list, but here are four cases that set the tone in 2018:
Setup in Myanmar
Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo started the year in prison. To the surprise and outrage of many, they will end it there as well.
The pair was arrested in December 2017 while investigating reports of a massacre of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar. While they were reporting, a police officer invited them to meet up. As they were leaving the meeting, the reporters said, the policeman handed them documents. Soon after they left the meeting, they were arrested. Despite testimony from another police official that they were set up, a court found the two men guilty of violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced them to seven years in prison. The case will have a chilling effect on journalism in Myanmar, Khin Maug Zaw, the jailed reporters’ attorney, told The Washington Post. The message is, he said: “Hold your tongues, don’t say anything, don’t be inquisitive.”
Shot in Annapolis
On the afternoon of June 28, a man burst into the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland’s capital and opened fire, killing five people in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on US journalists in decades. It apparently was not a random shooting. The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, 38, had been harassing Gazette journalists since the paper ran a column noting that he was convicted of criminally harassing a woman. In the aftermath of the killings, critics accused US President Donald Trump of inciting the shooting by denouncing the news media. Writing in The Washington Post, media critic Margaret Sullivan argued that the president’s rhetoric is indeed having an effect on press freedom.
Ambushed in Afghanistan
On April 30, a suicide bomber riding a motorbike blew himself up in Kabul, not far from the US Embassy. As journalists rushed to the scene, a second bomber, posing as a journalist, detonated his own device and killed 25 people, including nine reporters and photographers.
In a separate attack on the same day, Ahmad Shah, a reporter for the BBC, was shot dead in Khost province. Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV, told the BBC at the time: “If you killed an entire line of journalists reporting here, in five hours time we’re back here; the line is longer; the queue is longer and the resolve is greater.’”
Journalists indeed kept going back - with deadly consequences. On September 6, Samim Faramarz was reporting from the scene of a bombing in Kabul when a second explosion hit, cutting the broadcast and killing Faramarz and his cameraman, Ramiz Ahmady. His last words were broadcast live: “The area is completely terrorized. I can smell blood here, and as you can see in the pictures. ...” And then he, too, was gone.
Killed by Saudi Arabia
On October 2, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. He never emerged, and his disappearance - along with the eventual confirmation that he had been killed - sparked a months-long diplomatic crisis that’s still unfolding.
In his final column for The Washington Post, Khashoggi wrote about the need for press freedom in Saudi Arabia and across the region. The piece was published 15 days after he was killed.