(CN) – With the recent murder of one journalist and the disappearance of another overseas, press advocates are sounding the alarm and demanding the U.S. government do more to hold those who harm and jail reporters accountable.
Forty-three journalists have been killed so far this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Although that number has decreased the last three years due to fewer reporters in conflict zones, the number of journalists murdered has risen from 18 last year to 27 thus far in 2018.
“It’s a reflection of increasing hostility toward journalists in and outside the United States," said Kathy Kiely, a veteran journalist and free press advocate with the University of Missouri School of Journalism. "It's like there's a global war on free speech. I think it's a very dark time for journalists.”
The recent disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabia critic, and the rape and murder of Bulgarian TV host Viktoria Marinova, have shined a spotlight on escalating attacks on journalists across the globe.
Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish officials told The New York Times a team of Saudi agents murdered Khashoggi and dismembered his body. Saudi officials deny the allegations.
President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was "very disappointed" when asked about Saudi Arabia's suspected role in the disappearance of Khashoggi, adding his administration is "going to get to the bottom" of what happened. The White House said high level officials had spoken with the Saudi government and demanded answers.
Marinova's body was found in the northern Bulgarian city of Ruse on Saturday. A 21-year-old murder suspect was arrested in Germany, though authorities have not yet determined if Marinova was targeted because of her work. She had recently interviewed two journalists investigating corruption in the European Union.
A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. was "shocked and saddened" by Marinova's death and called violence against journalists anywhere "a threat to freedom of the press and human rights." The U.S. has urged Bulgaria to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into her death.
Despite the Trump administration's quick response to those tragedies, press advocates say the president's own policies and rhetoric are partly to blame for escalating attacks on journalists.
"We know that President Trump's anti-press rhetoric has had an impact around the world," said Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Authoritarian officials in Venezuela, Syria, Myanmar, China, Russia and other nations have adopted variations of the "fake news" label popularized by Trump to discredit critics and vilify the press.
But attacks on journalists aren't isolated to authoritarian regimes. In October 2017, a car bomb killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta. This past February, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was shot and killed in his home in Slovakia. And in June, a man walked into the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five newspaper employees.
"We're seeing more violence against journalists in places where we didn't used to see that happening," Radsch said.