Democratic reform and a new constitution for Iraq will remain a distant dream while journalists continue to be targeted and murdered said the International Federation of Journalists today following the violent killing of Steven Vincent, a United States journalist in the southern town of Basra yesterday.
The IFJ says 93 journalists and media staff have been killed since the start of the war in March 2003 and of these 68 have been Iraqi reporters and media workers.
“The media safety crisis is as bad as ever,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The authorities must give priority to ending the security nightmare that makes the exercise of journalism a practical impossibility. Otherwise all talk of democratic reform and constitutional reform will be a distant dream.”
The IFJ is organising a conference of Iraq journalists’ representatives in Jordan shortly to discuss the security crisis and joint actions in Iraq to unify journalists and strengthen the rights of media.
Freelance reporter Vincent was shot by unknown gunmen in Basra, southern Iraq, where insurgents have recently stepped up their attacks. He had been abducted with his female Iraqi translator at gunpoint yesterday as they left a currency exchange shop. His body was found south of the city a few hours later. The translator, Nour Weidi, was found alive but seriously wounded.
Mr Vincent had been in Basra in recent months working for the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times and was gathering material for a book about Basra. In a recent article, he wrote that Basra's police force had been infiltrated by Shia militants and he has also criticised UK forces, which are responsible for security in Basra, for ignoring abuses of power by Shia extremists.
“This latest killing brings to 23 the number of media deaths in Iraq this year, but it is the first involving an international reporter in 2005,” said White. “The incident reinforces our view that the safety crisis in Iraq must be dealt with as a top priority.”
The death toll in 2004 and 2005 has probably not included many international media staff because security concerns have led many media to withdraw their staff from the country or to insist that they do not travel unguarded from high-security accommodation. As a result, much of the western journalists reporting from Iraq depend heavily upon the assistance of local Iraqi journalists who do travel and who have suffered as a result.
The death in Basra is the first in the town this year says the IFJ; all of the other killings have taken place in Baghdad, the infamous “Sunni Triangle” of towns including Falluja or in the Kurdish region.
Out of the 93 total media deaths reported by the IFJ, 63 confirmed cases involve journalists and media staff killed by insurgents; the remaining 30 cases include 6 war-related accidents, and the 24 remaining cases include 14 involving US Forces as well as cross-fire incidents.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries