More journalists were killed in Latin America and the Caribbean than in any other part of the world last year, including the Ukraine war zone, the press watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.
In a report released on Tuesday, the group said that, globally, at least 67 journalists and media workers had been killed in 2022, nearly double the 2021 figure of 45.
Almost half of last year’s killings took place in Latin America and the Caribbean, where at least 30 journalists were killed, including the longtime Guardian contributor Dom Phillips.
Phillips was murdered last June while documenting Indigenous efforts to protect the Brazilian portion of the Amazon rainforest for a book he was writing. His alleged killers have yet to be brought to trial, although on Monday police named the alleged mastermind behind the crime.
“It’s an incredible number of people … the highest we have ever recorded in the region,” said the CPJ’s New York-based programme director, Carlos Martínez de la Serna. “And I don’t have any reason to think that this year is going be different unless we see very radically different approaches [from governments], like creating effective protection mechanisms [for journalists].”
The CPJ report said the rising number of killings in Latin America and the Caribbean reflected “the outsize risk journalists in the region face while covering topics such as crime, corruption, gang violence, and the environment”.
“Covering these beats is becoming extremely dangerous,” said Martínez de la Serna, who blamed the chronic lack of justice for the deteriorating situation.
“The cost of attacking or killing a journalist is extremely low. Most of the cases are never solved. There is never justice – and those responsible … are not held [to account],” he added.
The CPJ said at least 15 journalists had been killed in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Almost as many journalists were killed in Mexico, a country officially at peace, where the advocacy group documented a record 13 killings. Those murdered included the celebrated crime photographer Margarito Martínez Esquivel, who was gunned down outside his Tijuana home in January 2022.
Seven journalists were killed in Haiti, which has spiralled further into political and humanitarian crisis since the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, in July 2021, and now does not have a single democratically elected government official.
Martínez de la Serna said: “We are comparing the numbers of Mexico and Haiti with Ukraine, which is at war – so that gives us a sense of the situation regarding the law, the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, the dimension of the political and social unrest … the lack of justice and the lack of protective measures.”
The CPJ also documented work-related killings of journalists in Chile and Colombia and was investigating other deaths in Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay.
In Peru, more than 70 journalists have been harassed or attacked since the outbreak of deadly political unrest there last month, including a photographer for the Spanish news agency EFE who police shot in the leg with pellets after threatening to “blow off” his head.
Recent weeks have seen some glimmers of hope for journalists covering an increasingly perilous region.
Brazil’s new government has promised to create a special observatory to monitor attacks on the press after the far-right uprising in Brasília on 8 January. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism said at least 40 journalists were attacked, robbed or harassed while covering that rebellion, including one veteran journalist who was briefly taken captive by supporters of the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, beaten and threatened with a gun.
“I started begging for my life … I was in panic,” he told the newspaper O Tempo. “They told me I was never going to get out of there.”
Martínez de la Serna said he was encouraged by journalists mobilizing to protect themselves in Central America and Venezuela, and by signs that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s new administration in Brazil wanted “constructive and respectful” relations with the press after four grim years under the media-bashing populist Bolsonaro.
“It’s encouraging to see authorities moving in that direction, as Lula has promised to do,” he said, adding that it was “very important that politicians understand that we need to see action” to protect journalists.