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FILE: An Afghan special forces soldier escorts rescued TV journalists after militants attacked Shamshad TV station in Kabul on November 7

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says 65 professional journalists, citizen-journalists, and media workers were killed across the world in 2017, representing an 18 percent fall from last year’s figure.

Among them were 50 professional reporters, the lowest toll in 14 years, according to annual figures published by the Paris-based media watchdog on December 19.

RSF says that the downward trend may be because journalists are being better trained and protected for war zones.

The drop is also due to reporters “abandoning countries that have become too dangerous" or “choosing to switch to a less dangerous profession,” it adds.

Of the 65 slain journalists, the report says 39 were murdered and deliberately targeted, while the others were “collateral victims of a deadly situation such as an air strike, an artillery bombardment, or a suicide bombing.”

War-torn Syria remains the most dangerous country for journalists, with 12 reporters killed in 2017. In neighboring Iraq, eight journalists were killed.

With 11 journalists assassinated this year, Mexico is the deadliest country not at war. RSF says that those who cover political corruption or organized crime there are “often systemically targeted, threatened, and gunned down."

In Afghanistan, two professional journalists and seven media workers were killed in three separate attacks. One attack targeted the local headquarters of the national radio and TV broadcaster in the eastern city of Jalalabad in May. The two other attacks occurred in the capital, Kabul, in May and November.

RSF says a total of 326 professional journalists, citizen-journalists, and media workers were detained worldwide in connection with the provision of news and information as of December 1. That is fewer than in 2016, when 348 journalists were detained.

Outside the Middle East, the only country with hostages is Ukraine, where RSF says Russia-backed separatists “tend to regard the few remaining critical journalists as spies.”

The group says China remains the world’s biggest prison for journalists, all categories combined, as the government “continues to improve its arsenal of measures for persecuting journalists and bloggers.”

However, Turkey is the world's biggest prison for professional journalists, with 42 reporters and one media worker behind bars, according to RSF.

"Criticizing the government, working for a 'suspect' media outlet, contacting a sensitive source or even just using an encrypted messaging service all constitute grounds for jailing journalists on terrorism charges," the report says.

Syria and Iran were the other top jailers of journalists, with 24 and 23 of them languishing in prison, respectively.

In a survey published last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the number of journalists in government custody on December 1 hit another new record.

The census, which did not account journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year, found 262 journalists behind bars worldwide in relation to their work.

According to RSF, a total of 54 professional journalists, citizen-journalists, and media workers are held hostage worldwide.

In Syria and Iraq, 40 of them continue to be held by the Islamic State and other extremist Islamist groups. In Yemen, Huthi rebels are holding 11 journalists and media workers.

Outside the Middle East, the only country with hostages is Ukraine, where RSF says Russia-backed separatists “tend to regard the few remaining critical journalists as spies.”

Two journalists are currently behind bars in the separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine, the report says.

“This is far fewer than at the peak near the start of the conflict in 2014, a year when more than 30 journalists were kidnapped,” RSF says. “The decline in the intensity of the fighting, the fact that the front line is now stationary, and the almost complete absence of critical or foreign reporters in the separatist areas have all helped to reduce the practice of hostage-taking.”

RSF says that two journalists who disappeared in Pakistan and Bangladesh during 2017 are still missing.

Pakistani blogger Samar Abbas was abducted in January 2017 and never reappeared, while his family has received no news of him.

Based in Karachi, Abbas founded the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, a group that defends human rights and posts independently reported information on its website.

Pakistani security officials at the scene of a bomb attack that targeted a senior police officer in Peshawar on November 24.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistani security forces are holding a journalist in custody and have and detained a security guard at a press club in the Khyber tribal region, a day after a bomb was discovered beneath a car used by four journalists in northwestern Pakistan.

The detained journalist, Khalid Afridi, works for the Khyber News TV Channel. He was one of the four journalists traveling in the car on November 24 when the magnetic bomb was discovered.

The group, which also included RFE/RL correspondent Farhad Shinwari, was covering a vintage-car rally in the Khyber tribal region.

Afridi rented the car in the town of Jamroud, where the car rally began, and was traveling ahead of the race with the three other journalists when two men in a vehicle behind them spotted the explosives.

At a checkpoint near Landi Kotal at the western edge of the Khyber Pass, the two men warned the journalists and the Khasadar paramilitary police there.

A bomb-disposal unit from Pakistan's Frontier Corps defused about 2 kilograms of explosives.

An unnamed security official said that, if detonated, the powerful device would have killed the occupants of the car and would have caused multiple casualties among anyone nearby watching the car rally.

Security officials said the bomb appeared to be "locally manufactured" in Pakistan.

Initially, police detained all four journalists along with the two men who spotted the explosives.

Shinwari said he and two other journalists were released shortly after midnight on November 25. He said Afridi was still being held on November 25 because the car had been rented in his name. Afridi was not immediately charged.

"When we were stopped and told there were explosives attached under our vehicle, we were terrified," Shinwari said. "We were so close to being killed. And then we suffered through the pressure of the interrogation as if we were responsible for planting the bomb. It was very disturbing."

The authorities also detained a security guard at the Jamroud Press Club responsible for the parking lot where Afridi left the car earlier in the week.

Authorities were questioning the press club security guard on November 25.

After the discovery of the explosives, authorities stopped local media from covering the car rally -- which began at the Bad-e Khyber border crossing with Afghanistan and was continuing to Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

Earlier on November 24, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed a senior regional police official in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Pakistani Taliban often target security forces.

A person who claimed to be a spokesman for the militant Lashkar-e Islam (Army of Islam) group called RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on November 24 and claimed responsibility for the attack.

That claim could not immediately be independently confirmed.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal correspondent Khalid Khan in Peshawar and

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