The Philippines has the highest number of unsolved murders of journalists for the third year in a row, according to the 2019 Global Impunity Index report released on Tuesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
With a number higher than Somalia, Syria, and Iraq, there were at least 41 unsolved killings of journalists in 2019, compared with 40 last year. The Philippines has been in the list’s top two countries with unsolved murders of journalists since 2008 and has remained the highest since 2017.
Second in the list was Mexico, where there have been 30 unsolved killings this year. In both countries, the murders often appear related to reporting on their respective drug wars.
The country also ranked fifth on the CPJ’s “Global Impunity Index,” which seeks to “highlight countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free.” Somalia topped the list.
“The country’s fifth-worst ranking is due in part to the deadly ambush of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on November 23, 2009,” it stated. “The trial of over 100 suspects behind the massacre is due to conclude this year, but as of August 31, the final date CPJ counted convictions for this year’s index, no verdict had been announced.”
The findings underline rising concern about freedom of the press in the Philippines, a country whose democratic institutions have been strained under the leadership of their strongman leader Rodrigo Duterte.
Despite launching a somewhat successful crackdown on the country’s drug trade, Duterte has repeatedly clashed with the media over their reporting of alleged human rights abuses including extrajudicial executions.
This year, Maria Ressa, the co-founder of the Filipino news website Rappler, was arrested by authorities over what the government said were charges of “cyber libel.” She was arrested again in May on charges of violating laws barring foreign ownership of media, having just last year been named as one of a collection of journalists for Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”
Her arrests have been widely condemned as politically motivated, with the U.S. Embassy demanding that consequent legal proceedings were fully in accordance with “relevant Philippine law and international standards of due process.” She has since been released on bail with charges pending.