…Russia builds new barracks on disputed islands near Japan***
The number of journalists killed worldwide in retaliation for their work nearly doubled this year, according to an annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The New York-based organization found that 34 journalists were killed in retaliation for their work as of Dec. 14, while at least 53 were killed overall. That compares to 18 retaliation killings among the 47 deaths documented by the committee in 2017.
The report issued Wednesday includes the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a native of Saudi Arabia fiercely critical of its royal regime. His Oct. 2 death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has led to tremors on the global political scene around allegations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved.
Khashoggi lived in self-imposed exile in the United States, and had gone to the Saudi consulate to formalize his divorce, but was instead strangled and dismembered — allegedly by Saudi agents.
Asked whether he believed the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi’s murder, President Donald Trump said last month, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.” While the president condemned the violence against journalists, the committee noted that he has called them “enemies of the people.”
In addition to retaliation killings, journalists have died in combat or crossfire, or on other dangerous assignments. The deadliest country for journalists this year has been Afghanistan, where 13 journalists were killed, some in back-to-back blasts staged by suicide bombers and claimed by the militant group Islamic State, according to the report.
Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday that the U.S. made it into the top five deadliest countries for journalists this year for the first time, with six dying, including four who were among five people killed by a gunman who opened fire in the offices of Maryland newspaper Capital Gazette on June 28. The shooting was the deadliest single attack on the media in recent U.S. history. A sales associate was also killed. The man had threatened the newspaper after losing a defamation lawsuit. Another two died while covering extreme weather.
In addition, the committee said the imprisonment of journalists has been on the rise.
“The context for the crisis is varied and complex, and closely tied to changes in technology that have allowed more people to practice journalism even as it has made journalists expendable to the political and criminal groups who once needed the news media to spread their message,” the committee said in its report.
Time magazine last week recognized jailed and killed journalists as its “person of the year,” including Khashoggi, Maria Ressa imprisoned in the Philippines, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo imprisoned in Myanmar, and staff at the Capital Gazette.
Journalists also have died this year in Slovakia, where 27-year-old investigative reporter Jan Kuciak was fatally shot while probing alleged corruption, and in Malta, where Daphne Caruana Galizia, on a similar mission, was killed by a bomb placed in her car. At least four journalists were murdered in Mexico, two in Brazil, and two Palestinian journalists were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during protests in the Gaza Strip, according to the report.
In Syria and Yemen, two of the worst civil-war decimated countries, the fewest journalists were killed since 2011. Three died in Yemen, and in Syria, the committee recorded nine deaths compared to a high of 31 in 2012. However, the drop may be due to limited access or extreme risks that discourage media visits, the committee said.
In the meantime, Russia said on Monday it had built new barracks for troops on a disputed chain of islands near Japan and would build more facilities for armored vehicles, prompting a diplomatic protest from Tokyo.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it planned to shift troops next week into four housing complexes on two of the four disputed islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Japan’s defense ministry says 3,500 Russian troops are deployed on the two larger islands as part of an on-going military buildup.
The news came after the Kremlin said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia on Jan. 21 as the two countries step up efforts to defuse the territorial dispute that has prevented them from signing a World War II peace treaty.
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Taro Kono told a regular news conference that Japan would lodge a protest. Japan said in July it had asked Russia to reduce its military activity on the islands, a plea Moscow dismissed as unhelpful megaphone diplomacy at the time.
Soviet forces seized the four islands at the end of World War II and Moscow and Tokyo both claim sovereignty over them.
Diplomats on both sides have spoken of the possibility of reviving a Soviet-era draft agreement that envisaged returning two of the four islands as part of a peace deal.
President Vladimir Putin and Abe have held numerous face-to-face meetings to try to make progress on the issue.
ABC with additional report from NBC