On the occasion of Iraqi National Press Day on Thursday, the Iraqi Journalists Association (IJA) called upon the government, multinational forces and the international community to offer protection to local and foreign journalists working in the war-torn country.
“The environment in which Iraqi journalists work is very dangerous,” said IJA deputy head Dawood al-Janabi. “There are a lot of threats and dangers.”
Iraqi National Press Day dates back to 1869, to mark the date when the country’s first newspaper, Al-Zawara, was launched in Baghdad. Today, however, given the dangerous situation facing local reporters, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) – in co-operation with the Iraqi Syndicate of Journalists and the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists – has also made the occasion a global day of solidarity with Iraqi journalists.
“Journalists in Iraq face violence on a scale never previously experienced,” said IFJ Secretary-General Aidan White. “Today, there are regions of the country where journalists – even well-informed local correspondents – fear to tread.” According to IJA figures, some 210 local journalists and media workers have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
“Most of the killings have been at the hands of insurgents, none of whom are bound by any civilised values or respect for human rights,” said White. “But, worryingly, around 20 of the media victims died at the hands of coalition, mainly US, forces. We’re still demanding that the US military carry out independent inquiries into how our colleagues died.”
White added that, so long as there were unanswered questions, “the families, friends and colleagues of the victims will wonder whether or not there was intentional targeting in some of these cases”.
The IFJ’s White went on to lament the fact that “the scale of the killing hasn’t been fully recognised, even by the UN”. White added: “A clear, emphatic and unambiguous statement from the UN Security Council or the UN General Assembly condemning this state of affairs would be a good start – but we’re still waiting.”
According to al-Janabi, the latest journalist to be killed was Ibrahim Seneid, editor of the Fallujah-based Al-Bashara newspaper, which was recently accused by insurgents of publishing US propaganda. Seneid was killed on Tuesday in a drive-by shooting in Fallujah, some 65km west of Baghdad.
Before Tuesday's attack, the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had put the number of journalists – local and foreign – killed in Iraq since the conflict began at 73 in addition to 26 media-support workers, making it the deadliest conflict in CPJ's 25-year history.
Al-Janabi also voiced concern about a pattern of restrictions on press freedom set by government officials, political parties and multinational forces. At a press conference on Wednesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to impose emergency laws on the media should they criticise his official security plan or “offend Iraqi sensibilities”. Rather, al-Maliki urged the media to be “positive and cooperative with the state”.
Al-Janabi, for his part, criticised the PM’s position. “We’re against the arrest and prosecution of journalists...they should be free to express their opinions,” he said.