Four Media Killings Spark new IFJ Call over “Witch-hunt” of Journalists in Iraq

The International Federation of Journalists today renewed calls for an end to the targeting and killing of journalists and media staff in Iraq following the brutal assassination of three journalists and a support driver in the last month.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented witch-hunt against the Iraqi press corps,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Political and religious leaders who claim to defend democratic change in this war-stricken country must speak out against this terror”.

On 25 February, the body of journalist Raeda Wazzan, a news anchor with the Iraqi state TV channel Al-Iraqiya was found five days after she and her son were kidnapped by masked gunmen in the centre of the northern city of Mosul.

There was a mortar attack on Iraqiya's studios on 16 February in which three technicians were injured. Two days earlier, Iraqiya producer Jamal Badrani was the target of a kidnapping attempt. According to reports Wazzan's murder was claimed on the Internet by an armed Iraqi grouped linked to Al-Qaeda, but this could not be verified.

In a separate incident last Friday, Mohammad Sherif Ali, an Iraqi journalist working for Al-Hurra, a U.S.-funded Arabic television station, was seriously injured after gunmen attacked his car in Iskandiriyah, south of Baghdad. Ali’s driver was killed in the attack.

On February 9, Dler Karam Ali, a Kurdish journalist working for the Al-Ittihad Al-Isalmi and Al-Ofoq Al-Islami newspapers and also a member of the IFJ-affiliated Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists was shot and injured by US forces on the road between Baghdad and Darbandikhan in Northern Iraq. He died 3 days later in hospital. He was passing through a US military checkpoint on his way to cover the elections when US soldiers on duty asked the car to stop, the driver refused and the soldiers started shooting at the car killing Karam Ali.

Also on February 9, gunmen in Basra shot dead Iraqi journalist Abdul Hussein Al-Basri, an editor of a local newspaper who was working for US-backed TV channel Al-Hurriya. The reporter and his son were gunned down as they left their home.

“Two years after the US military occupation of Iraq the terrifying ordeal of media in the country continues with targeted attacks on the free and independent media,” said White.

On April 8th this year the IFJ and Iraqi journalists they plan to hold demonstrations in towns across Iraq to protest over impunity in the killing of journalists. They say that all cases of violence, intimidation and killing of media staff must be investigated, independently and exhaustively. The date is the second anniversary of the US attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in which two journalists died. These are two of 13 media deaths at the hands of US soldiers, which have yet be properly investigated and explained.

“On that day journalists around the world will once again protest over impunity secrecy over media deaths and, in particular, at the failure of the United States to take responsibility for its actions in Iraq which have led to the killing of journalists,” said White.

Two weeks ago, in a effort to provide concrete support for change in Iraq the IFJ hosted a meeting of a new grouping – the Iraqi National Journalists Advisory Panel – which brings together progressive elements of the old journalists’ syndicate as well leaders of a new press union and Kurdish journalists, says the first priority is the elimination of all threats of violence against journalists. Since the US invasion two years ago 75 media staff have been killed in the country, more than half of them Iraqi.

The IFJ also plans to open up an international solidarity office for journalists in Iraq.

The Iraqi journalists say news safety must be a top priority in building a new democratic Iraq and they have launched a new campaign called Report and Survive aimed at reducing the wave of violence against media. They are also calling for the release of media staff held hostage.

The IFJ is supporting such efforts and has been working closely with its affiliates in France and Italy to secure the release of Florence Aubenas, a correspondent for French newspaper Liberation, who disappeared in Baghdad with her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi, over a month ago and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena who was snatched from a street in the Iraqi capital over three weeks ago.

Last week, the IFJ Solidarity Centre in Algeria along with colleagues from the National Union of Journalists in Algeria held a day of solidarity for Aubenas, Al-Saadi and Sgrena in Algiers to express solidarity with their colleagues saying that the “targeting of journalists in Iraq is futile for the Iraqi cause and will only discredit any positive steps already made”.

“We have watched with horror at the video appeals forced upon our colleagues from La Liberation and Il Manifesto,” said White. “Whether this is the work of mercenary thugs or political extremists does not matter, what matters is that they are released”.

More than 70 journalists and media workers have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion nearly two years ago. 50 of these were local Iraqis.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries