The number of journalists killed in the field has skyrocketed by 244 per cent in the past five years, and more than half of the 86 reporters slain in 2007 fell in Iraq, according to an annual tally compiled by Reporters Without Borders

The international media watchdog released on Wednesday its annual Press Freedom Roundup, which lists the number of journalists and media assistants killed in the line of duty over the past year, as well as statistics on media representatives who have been arrested and imprisoned.

According to the Paris-based group, there were 86 journalists killed in 2007 — the most since the 103 media deaths in 1994, which saw the Rwandan genocide, civil warfare in Algeria and fighting in the former Yugoslavia. The group said there has been a steady rise in the toll since 2002, when 25 journalists were slain.

The group singled out Iraq, which was where 47 journalists were killed in 2007 — all locals except for one Russian.

"No country has ever seen more journalists killed than Iraq, with at least 207 media workers dying there since the March 2003 U.S. invasion — more than in the Vietnam War, the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia, the massacres in Algeria or the Rwanda genocide," the agency said.

"Iraqi journalists are deliberately targeted by armed groups and are not simply the victims of stray bullets.… The Iraqi government cannot immediately stop the violence but it can send a strong signal to the killers by doing all it can to seek them out and punish them."

Other countries that proved deadly for journalists included Somalia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to the group's tally.

The report also listed the deaths of 20 media assistants, who help reporters do their jobs.

Other 2007 stats revealed in the report include:

  • 887 journalists were arrested, with China and Cuba cited as having the highest number of reporters behind bars.
  • 1,511 journalists were physically attacked or threatened.
  • 67 journalists were kidnapped.
  • At least 2,676 websites, many of them discussion forums, were shut down or suspended by government authorities worldwide.
  • 65 cyber-dissidents remain imprisoned worldwide.
  • At least 14 journalists continue to be held as hostages, all in Iraq, as of Jan. 1, 2008.

Looking ahead to 2008, the group also targeted a couple of key court cases for media watchers to keep an eye on: the trials of the suspects in the killings of Turkish-Armenian magazine editor Hrant Dink and Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Two other watchdogs also recently revealed their lists of media deaths in 2007.

According to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists,  134 media workers were killed. The Committee to Project Journalists, which is based in New York, said 64 journalists in 17 countries were killed over the past year.