Leaders of Iraq’s divided community of journalists joined together with the International Federation of Journalists to welcome the release of French hostages George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot today.
At a meeting with the IFJ in Amman to finalise plans for an assistance programme for the country’s beleaguered media staff, the three organisations of journalists, sent a message of goodwill to the two Frenchmen who stopped off in the city en route from Baghdad to Paris after their four-month hostage ordeal.
“Your release is a source of joy for all Iraqi journalists,” said the statement. “We hope that this is a sign that all acts of intimidation, humiliation and violence against journalists whether local or from abroad will now come to an end.”
The message to the hostages came as the meeting, chaired by IFJ General Secretary Aidan White and involving the Kurdistan Association of Journalists, the Syndicate of Iraq Journalists and the umbrella group of independent journalists the Iraqi Press Union, and leading journalists and editors, agreed on new actions to improve the safety of journalists in Iraq.
The participants also called for a global amnesty to free all journalists imprisoned under punitive laws or held illegally immediately. There were special pleas for the release of Mohammed Benchicou, editor of the independent newspaper Le Matin who has been jailed in Algeria on charges regarding currency dealing, which many observers believe were unjustified and a call for the release of Dawit Issac in Eritrea who has been held for 1186 days.
“We particularly call for the Algerian President to intervene in the case of Benchicou,” said the statement. “This is the moment for the Government to intervene to end the ordeal of our colleague who should be released immediately.”
The meeting noted that there are between 150 and 200 journalists around the world in prison for carrying out their work, with at least 60 in Cuba and China and 60 more in Burma, Vietnam, Iran, Nepal, Eritrea and Turkey. “The punishment of journalists just for doing their job is unacceptable and all of colleagues should be freed immediately. The suffering of journalists in Iraq and around the world must be brought to an end.”
The two-day meeting finalised an action programme including a series of safety seminars for Iraqi reporters, involving the International News Safety Institute, as well as plans to put a detailed safety and protection manual into the hands of every Iraqi journalists and to distribute safety equipment to media throughout the country.
“Iraqi journalists want to work in peace and safety and to end the intolerable routine of violence and intimidation that they particularly suffer. This programme will be a welcome start, showing that the international community is aware of their plight and is ready to help,” said White.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries