IFJ Protests Over Intimidation, Targeting and Abuse As New Media Killing Deepens Iraq Crisis

The International Federation of Journalist today called on all sides in the Iraq conflict to stop targeting of journalists, following the tragic killing of a media staff member south of Baghdad during clashes between US troops and Shiite militia.

Hamid Rashid Wali, an Iraqi technician working for Al-Jazeera television was shot in the head and killed yesterday during clashes between the US Army and Shiite militia of Moqtada al-Sadr in Kerbala and became the latest victim in an unprecedented wave of killings and attacks on journalists, particularly from the Arab world.

“The desperate situation for media is reflected in the unprecedented scale of intimidation, targeting and abuse that has marked this conflict,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The latest death brings the total number of journalists and media staff casualties to 43 in the past year. It is killing of media people on a scale never seen before.”

The IFJ is calling for an independent inquiry into the latest death and for an end to targeting and acts of intimidation which it believes are particularly directed against Arab journalists on the spot.

Earlier yesterday, US forces arrested Al-Arabiya cameraman Hussein Karim, who was detained while filming in the al-Bay'a district of Baghdad. Karim was held in an area that US soldiers were sealing off after getting reports that a car was on fire. So far no official explanation has been given regarding the reasons behind his arrest.

In another incident today, Fran Sevilla, a special correspondent working for Spanish radio RNE, was detained for several hours in a mosque in Kajaf by a group close to the radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr. Sevilla was released a few hours ago.

The latest incidents follow the shocking revelations on Tuesday that three Iraqis working for Reuters were beaten up and subject to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation by American troops in January during their detention in a military camp near Falluja. An Iraqi journalist working for NBC News who was arrested with the three men also said that he had been beaten and mistreated.

“Suddenly the scale of abuse and intimidation is becoming clearer,” said White. “It is completely unacceptable and must be ended. Journalists and all who work with them must be treated humanely and their security protected.”

The IFJ says the US authorities are not taking seriously allegations being made by journalists about their treatment. A US military report on the Reuters case issued before the recent Abu Ghraib abuse became public said there was no evidence the Reuters staff had been tortured or abused. Now Reuters have asked the Pentagon to review the military's findings about the incident.

“There is no doubt that military complacency and arrogance are to blame for the absence of fair treatment and justice for media staff in Iraq,” said White. “These cases and the 11 other cases of journalists and media staff killed where we await independent verification of how they died are evidence of criminal neglect. It could never happen in a democratic state and it should not be allowed in Iraq.”

The IFJ is supporting the three Reuters staff -- Baghdad-based cameraman Salem Ureibi, Falluja-based freelance television journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein al-Badrani and driver Sattar Jabar al-Badrani – who were released without charge on January 5 and who are demanding a new investigation into their case.

"In these cases, just like the media killings at the Palestine Hotel a year ago, the military tries to reach conclusions without even interviewing eye-witnesses and the alleged victims,” said White. “The US approach to violence against journalists is woefully inadequate and so-called investigations are filled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies and breathtaking conclusions that exonerate the military and deny justice to the victims.”

The IFJ World Congress in Athens next week will hold a discussion on Wednesday 26 May titled “Media and War: A Battle for Safety and Quality”. Among other issues, this debate will focus on the challenges facing the security of journalists in Iraq and relations between the military and the media.

To date at least 43 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. 24 journalists and media staff have been killed since 1 January 2004. The IFJ is continuing to press the US for independent investigations of 11 deaths in which media staff died at the hands of US troops.

Further information: + 32 2 235 22 07

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries