Harassment of journalists

Other Names:
Intimidation of reporters
Detention of journalists
Murder of foreign correspondents

In order to silence critics and outspoken writers governments use techniques ranging from harassment and intimidation, through short-term detention, which often includes beatings and other forms of torture, and disappearance. Harassment of journalists may include police brutality, arrest, internment, trial, confiscation of articles and other information, closure of press offices, detainment, imprisonment, persecution, including legal action and death threats, expulsion, torture, and even assassination. Journalists may have security dossiers opened on them and their names may appear on extensively circulated black-lists for prejudicial treatment. The restriction of information which results may lead to ignorance and apathy or further violence and subversive activities. It serves to tighten government control and paves the way for indoctrination. Journalists may also be harassed or prevented from obtaining information by hostile individuals and groups. Photojournalists take the bulk of crowd abuse.


In 1986 there were more than 317 incidents of murder, assault, arrest or kidnapping, expulsion from countries where they had been working as foreign correspondents, and forced departure from their own country under threat. In 1987 nearly 600 incidents of press abuse took place in 75 countries. The abuses range from temporary, non-violent acts, such as limiting the circulation of a publication, to murder. Physical assault and murder of journalists has been rising. There were 1,625 individual attacks against more than 1,300 journalists and news organizations in 108 countries that were reported in 1992; in the same year China held more journalists in prison than any other country in the world, and as of February 1993, at least 90 journalist were being held prisoner somewhere in the world, with the highest number in China (27), Kuwait (18), Syria (9) and Myanmar (5). Some journalists are serving up to 20-years sentences.

The number of journalists killed in the pursuit of their profession has risen from 15 in 1986, 26 in 1987, 27 in 1988, 53 in 1989 (35 in Latin America, mostly El Salvador, Columbia and Peru), 32 in 1990, 66 in 1991, and 49 in 1992 (distributed by country as 11 in Turkey, 8 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 4 each in the Philippines and Tajikistan, 3 in each of Chad, India and Peru, 2 in each of Lebanon and Venezuela, and 1 in each of Angola, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Sudan and USA). In the first 11 months of 1993, 45 instances of killings of journalists were recorded which governments were reluctant to investigate impartially.

Dangerous locations for journalists shift. Eleven of the 26 killed in 1987 were in the Philippines and 4 in Sri Lanka. After a lull since the end of the Vietnamese war, 1993 saw the deaths of five Vietnamese-born journalists, although the general low level of press attacks in the totalitarian countries of Southeast Asia is ascribed to the fact that they have so little freedom to get into trouble. Fewer journalists were killed in 1992 in Latin America as authoritarian regimes gave way to multi-party systems, although Columbia, Guatemala and Haiti remain particularly dangerous places. In fact, Europe and the former Soviet republics have overtaken Latin America as the most lethal region for journalists: thirty have been killed in the Balkan war, nine in 1991, most apparently in combat, some were targeted. In 1992, eleven journalists were killed in south-eastern Turkey, and four in Tajikistan. However, it is virtually impossible to rank countries by degree of press freedom because it is often easier to learn about attack against journalists in countries with relatively few limits on the press. For instance in 1992, Israel, the USA and India ranked relatively high, even though they have democratic systems and relatively open and contentious press. The most repressive regimes often have the fewest number of documented attacks, and those undergoing transitions to democracy often have the most. The 55 attacks listed for China in 1992, the 22 listed for Guatemala, and the six listed for Syria cannot begin to fully capture the daily acts of subjugation and self-censorship to which journalists were subjected.

In 1999, 34 journalists were killed around the world in the course of their work; 10 of them in Sierra Leone, where rebel forces targeted reporters.

Related Problems:
Harassment of public officials
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
26.07.2021 – 16:26 CEST