The International Federation of Journalists condemned today a new wave of terror and intimidation against civilians and journalists in Iraq, following the latest kidnappings of up to four reporters in the past two days.
Earlier today, a number of international civilians were taken hostage in Iraq, where fighting between insurgents and occupation troops has escalated in recent days. There are conflicting reports about the occupations of those being held, with three Japanese civilians in the hostage group and at least one journalist among them. They are being held by the so-called Mujahedeen Squadrons, a previously unknown group which has said that the hostages would be burned alive unless Japan pulled its troops from Iraq. They were shown with knives held to their throats in a video broadcast by Al-Jazeera, and were blindfolded.
“Over the past few days we have seen beginnings of a wave of terror washing over the media community in Iraq,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “This is a sign of the increasing desperation overtaking those involved in the conflict”.
Video footage from the Arab satellite network, Al-Jazeera showed the three hostages, identified as Noriaki Imai, Soichiro Koriyama and Nahoko Takato. Imai, an aid worker, who left for Iraq on April 1, was wearing a blindfold and surrounded by gunmen.
The latest abductions follow the kidnapping earlier this week of a Times reporter, Stephen Farrell, and an American freelance journalist Orly Halpern he was travelling with. Farrell, who was released after managing to convince his kidnappers he was not a soldier, said he and Halpern had been travelling in an armoured Mercedes from Israel and were between the town of Ramadi and Falluja when the bandits or "ali baba" began firing at them, eventually hitting a tyre. He said the area where they were stopped was a "no-go" area for Iraqi police and coalition troops stayed away unless heavily armoured.
The IFJ says that the politics of hostage-taking is a futile and cowardly strategy and cannot deliver liberation or democracy.
The IFJ is supporting its partner, the International News Safety Institute (INSI) in calling on all news organisations with staff in Iraq to tighten up their security. Many of the major news agencies in Iraq have stopped all staff driving to Baghdad from Jordan, through the so-called "Sunni triangle" where Times journalist, Stephen Farrell was kidnapped.
The IFJ and INSI are recommending that journalists cover the current fighting in Iraq from secure areas, rather than going out into the field where the safety risks are greater.
“Several other examples of targeting of journalists highlight the need for maximum safety precautions within an escalating pattern of intimidation and violence,” said White.
According to reports, an Associated Press photographer and his driver were detained today in the southern city of Kut by militiamen loyal to the al-Sadr forces. The gunmen accused the two men of being "traitors" and bound and blindfolded them. They were later released.
Also today, a reporter, photographer, driver, and translator, all working for the New York Times, were abducted at gunpoint outside of Baghdad. They were held for several hours and released unharmed. In another incident, several employees of the New York Times' Baghdad bureau were detained in Kufa, 100 miles south of the capital by al-Sadr forces. They were held for eight hours and released.
The IFJ says that the journalists should be released immediately and all attacks on media staff and other civilians should cease.
The IFJ has three affiliates in Japan and is working closely with them to investigate further into the latest incident.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries