IFJ Tells Governments to ‘Back Off” as Iraqi Expulsion Sparks Row Over Interference in Work of Media

The news that a French reporter is to be expelled from Baghdad by Iraqi officials claiming they are trying to protect her safety has been greeted with anger by the International Federation of Journalists, which today said that governments should “back off, stop interfering and let journalists get on with their work.”

The IFJ says that the decision to expel freelance reporter, Anne-Sophie Le Mauff from Iraq, after she had already come under pressure from the French Government to leave, was a dangerous signal that “some governments think they know better than journalists on the spot about how to do their job.”

Yesterday morning, three representatives from the Iraqi interior ministry stormed into Le Mauff’s residence in Baghdad and interrogated her for up to three hours until finally informing her that she would receive the expulsion order today. Le Mauff said that the decision had been taken at her own government's request and that France's ambassador in Iraq, Bernard Bajolet, had written to Le Mauff asking her to leave the country.

“It is impossible not to conclude that the French government have applied pressure on the authorities in Baghdad to act against freelance journalist Anne-Sophie Le Mauff, said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “and if this is the case it represents an intolerable act of interference in the work of journalists in Iraq”.

Le Mauff has been in Iraq for more than a year, stringing for a range of news media including the Belgian national, Le Soir, French dailies L'Humanité and Sud-Ouest, and such radio stations as Radio Monte-Carlo, Radio Vatican and Radio Canada.

It is understandable, says the IFJ, that following the ordeal of Florence Aubenas and her interpreter Hussein Hanoun, the French government should be anxious to do whatever it can to keep its people safe, but that should not extend to trying to tell journalists what to do and even worse putting pressure on other governments to move against reporters.

“Decisions about whether to go or stay in a dangerous situation must be made by media themselves in consultation with journalists on the spot,” said Philippe Leruth, Vice-President of the European Federation of Journalists. “Governments have no place in taking operational decisions for news people. They should back off, provide the media with complete and useful information about dangerous countries and let journalists get on with their work without interference.”

In another incident last weekend, Jawad Kadhim, correspondent of the Dubai-based al-Arabiya satellite channel who was shot seriously injured in Iraq on 18 June, finally arrived in Amman, Jordan on Monday night.

However, according to Al-Arabiya satellite channel, both the Iraqi and US authorities delayed the transfer of the injured correspondent for treatment as he failed to obtain a permit for a medical aircraft to land in Baghdad.

“We all know that Iraq is the most dangerous place for a journalist to be,” said White, who last week was in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi journalists, “but when it comes to safety governments must not target or second guess the judgement and lives of reporters on the spot”.

The IFJ is calling on the United Nations, the European Union and the Iraqi government, in an international conference on Iraq meeting today in Brussels, to give top priority to the safety situation for journalists working in the country.

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