The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the release of a British journalist James Brandon who was snatched from his hotel by gunmen in the southern city of Basra, but the Federation has reiterated concern over the deteriorating situation facing journalists and media staff with a new call for the release of journalists held after a police raid on the Iranian news agency in Baghdad earlier this week.
“We are pleased that James Brandon has been promptly released,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “but we still await news about the arrest and detention of colleagues working for the Iranian news agency.”
At least three reporters working for IRNA news agency were arrested by Baghdad police, earlier this week according to one of the agency's senior editors. Iranian journalists have run into trouble with the authorities in Iraq before. Iraq's defence minister has recently upped anti-Iranian rhetoric, accusing Tehran of sending spies and arms across the border to foment unrest. IRNA says the agency lost contact with its Baghdad bureau on Monday afternoon amidst reports that a group of armed men had stormed their offices in Baghdad.
“We are concerned that there are political motives behind this incident,” said White. “The Iraqi authorities must explain why these men were taken and unless there are good reasons, they must be released immediately.”
The IFJ says that with more than 40 media deaths since last year’s invasion, Iraq is already the world’s most dangerous place for journalists. A few days ago the Federation protested over an official ban imposed on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. About 20 foreigners are currently being held and at least eight hostages have been executed. The IFJ is calling on all journalists in Iraq to tighten up their security.
Among those reportedly detained after the police raid on the Iranian News Agency IRNA were the bureau chief Mostafa Darban. Thee others detained were Mohammad Khafaji and Mohsen Madani.
The kidnapping of Brandon, a freelance working for the London-Based Sunday Telegraph, was followed by the kidnappers issuing a video tape with militants threatening to kill him, but a spokesman for Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appealed to the captors to release him and they complied within a few hours.
“The situation is increasingly hostile for journalists,” said White. “Media must do everything they can to provide security and all sides must resist the temptation to harass, victimise or intimidate media staff.”