Reporters without Borders (RSF) says 50 people were killed this year in connection with their journalistic work, with Afghanistan and Pakistan being among the most dangerous countries for media professionals.
The vast majority of those killed globally were deliberately murdered because they researched topics such as corruption, organized crime, or environmental issues, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a report published on December 29.
Seven media workers were killed while reporting on demonstrations.
In total, at least 937 people have been killed because of or in the course of their journalistic work over the past decade.
The total number of journalists killed this year was lower than the 53 reported in 2019, although RSF said fewer journalists worked in the field this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The watchdog, which has compiled annual data on violence against journalists around the globe since 1995, said 84 percent of those killed this year were "deliberately targeted" for their work, compared to 63 percent in 2019.
"For several years now, Reporters Without Borders has noted that investigative journalists are really in the crosshairs of states, or cartels," said RSF Editor-in-Chief Pauline Ades-Mevel.
Mexico remained the most dangerous country for media professionals, with eight killed. Those who research the links between drug traffickers and politicians are particularly at risk.
Six media representatives were killed in Iraq, without anyone being punished or even seriously investigated. Three of them were killed by a shot to the head fired by unidentified gunmen while they were covering protests.
In war-torn Afghanistan, those responsible for the killing of five media workers also remain unknown.
RSF noted an increase in targeted attacks on media workers in the country in recent months even as peace talks between the government and Taliban are ongoing.
“While none of these killings have been claimed, Afghan civil society members continue to denounce a campaign of terror against those who criticise religious obscurantism,” it said.
December was marked by the “execution-style murder” of Malalai Maiwand, an anchor for Enikas TV and representative of the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.
Four other journalists were killed by car bombs and explosions, including Mohammad Ilyas Dayee, who worked for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, known locally as Radio Azadi.
Four journalists were killed in both India and Pakistan in 2020.
RSF cited the case of Pakistani reporter Zulfiqar Mandrani, whose body was found in May with two gunshot wounds to the head and evidence of torture across his back.
The group said he was “probably murdered for investigating the activities of a local drug trafficker with links to a police officer.”
In addition, RSF said hundreds of journalists died from COVID-19 across the world, but the watchdog could not determine how many of them were infected as a result of their work.
However, it said the coronavirus killed at least three people due to a lack of medical care after they were believed to have contracted it in prisons in Egypt, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
RSF also highlighted the case of Iranian dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was executed in December following “an unfair trial.”
“Although executions are common in Iran, it was the first time in 30 years that a journalist has been subjected to this archaic and barbaric practice,” it said.