On Wednesday, May 11, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was killed as she was covering unrest in Jenin, a Palestinian refugee camp north of the West Bank, which was established in 1953. Aqleh, 51, was a Palestinian-American and the Qatar-based TV channel said Israeli forces shot her deliberately and “in cold blood” while she was covering unrest in the Jenin refugee camp.
This is not a rare occurrence. Journalists are routinely threatened, their safety compromised and their lives grossly endangered while reporting from conflict zones, difficult circumstances, autocratic regimes, war zones.
Names of some journalists who perished while on assignment that readily come to mind include Danish Siddiqui, Jamal Khashoggi, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Daniel Pearl, Tarun Sehrawat. There are many Indian journalists, like Danish Siddiqui and Tarun Sehrawat, who make this list, but may not be as well-known.
According to a report published by the US non-profit watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), India has the highest number of journalists who were killed in “retaliation” for their work in 2021.
Four journalists had been murdered in India for their work as of 1 December 2021, while a fifth died on a “dangerous assignment”, the CPJ said in its annual survey on press freedom and attacks on the media. Significantly, seven Indian mediapersons were incarcerated as a direct result of their reporting as of 1 December 2021, it added.
At least 24 journalists were killed worldwide in the line of duty, 19 of them “murdered”, according to the report. The remaining five were killed in crossfires or while on “dangerous assignments”. Although it could not be ascertained if they were specific targets, another 18 died in suspicious circumstances, the report said.
Here’s a look at some prominent journalists who died in the recent past:
Danish Siddiqui (India)
Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui, who has won the Pulitzer Prize twice (once posthumously) was not simply killed in a crossfire, nor was he a collateral damage; rather, he was brutally murdered by the Taliban, according to Michael Rubin, who wrote in the Washington Examiner. Local Afghan authorities say that Siddiqui had travelled with an Afghan National Army team to the Spin Boldak region to cover the clash between Afghan forces and the Taliban to control the lucrative border crossing with Pakistan.
When they got to within one-third of a mile of the customs post, a Taliban attack split the team, with the commander and a few men separated from Siddiqui, who remained with three other Afghan troops, the report said. During this assault, a shrapnel hit Siddiqui, after which he and his team went to a local mosque where he received first aid. As the word spread, however, that a journalist was in the mosque, the Taliban attacked, as per the report.
The local investigation suggests that the Taliban attacked the mosque only because of Siddiqui’s presence there, it said. Siddiqui was alive when the Taliban captured him. The Taliban verified Siddiqui’s identity and then executed him, as well as those with him. The commander and the remainder of his team died as they tried to rescue him, the report said.
“While a widely circulated public photograph shows Siddiqui’s face as recognisable, I reviewed other photographs and a video of Siddiqui’s body provided to me by a source in the Indian government that show the Taliban beat Siddiqui around the head and then riddled his body with bullets,” Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the report. “The Taliban’s decision to hunt down, execute Siddiqui, and then mutilate his corpse shows that they do not respect the rules of war or conventions that govern the behaviour of the global community,” Rubin said.
Jamal Khashoggi (Consulate of Saudi Arabia, Istanbul)
On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and well-known critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. His Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside of the building while Khashoggi went into the consulate to collect documents for their upcoming marriage, but he never returned. Instead, Khashoggi was murdered, and his body allegedly dismembered by a team of assassins sent from Riyadh. His remains have never been found.
Daphne Caruana Galizia (Malta)
On October 16, 2017, well-known investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing shortly after she left her home on Malta’s main island. Caruana Galizia was targeted with several criminal and civil court cases during her career, especially for libel. She had recently participated in the Panama Papers investigation, which found alleged links between the country’s then-prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and hidden offshore bank accounts.
Lasantha Wickrematunge (Sri Lanka)
Prominent Sri Lankan journalist, editor, politician, and human rights activist Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated on January 8, 2009. Wickrematunge and his family had received continuous threats and survived violent attacks for his reporting over the years. He was murdered only a few days before he was supposed to give evidence in a defamation case about the alleged role of the president’s brother, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in corrupt arms deals. In January 2020, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, renewed its call for the government of Sri Lanka to investigate Wickrematunge’s murder and bring those responsible to justice.
Tarun Sehrawat (India)
In June 2012, Tarun Sehrawat, a photojournalist with Tehelka magazine died after contracting multiple infections while on assignment in the Abujmarh region of Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh state. Sehrawat was on assignment in the thickly-forested area, along with his colleague Tusha Mitta, who also came down with illness but made a slow recovery. Consequently, questions were raised about the preparedness or lack thereof, of the two journalists, with some making veiled references to the magazine’s dissatisfactory knowledge of medical protocols in consonance with sending employees on difficult, dangerous assignments.
Daniel Pearl (US)
Daniel Pearl, South Asia Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal, abducted while reporting in Pakistan, died at the hands of his captors sometime in February 2002. He was decapitated. Pearl disappeared in the Pakistani city of Karachi on Jan. 23, 2002, after embarking for what he believed was an interview with a prominent figure in the country’s Islamic movement. Four days later, a group calling itself “The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty” sent an e-mail, accompanied by pictures of the 38-year-old Pearl in chains. One of the pictures showed him with a gun to his head. According to the BBC, prior to Daniel Pearl’s death, many in the media believed they would be safe interviewing members of militant groups, granted a kind of immunity as neutral observers. His shocking murder changed that, and heralded the repeated, deliberate attacks on reporters by extremists that would follow and that we are witness to, with alarming regularity.