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IRAQ: Local journalists call for increased protection

01 March, 2006

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BAGHDAD, 28 Feb 2006, The Iraqi Journalists Association (IJA) has called on Baghdad to provide extra security measures to guarantee the safety of journalists following recent attacks and the murder of a local female reporter along with two colleagues.

"We appeal for urgent action from the government in offering protection and guarantees for our safety and in preventing journalists from being kidnapped and killed. It must support special security groups for our protection," said the IJA’s Khalid Samim.

The association released a statement on Monday requesting that the ministry of interior provide police protection and protective clothing for local journalists, as well as conduct a full investigation into the recent deaths.

Atwar Bahjat, 30, an Iraqi journalist working for the Dubai-based satellite TV station al-Arabiya, was the latest victim. She was found shot to death along with two of her crew members, a cameraman and an engineer, on 22 February on the outskirts of the city of Samara. All three victims were Iraqis covering the consequences of the bombing of a Shi`ite shrine in Samara on 21 February.

No groups have claimed responsibility for the killings, but it is presumed that insurgents were responsible because, according to the ministry of the interior, the news crew had received previous threats.

"During our investigations into all cases of journalists killed, we’ve found that they had previously received threats,” said Hussein Asadi, a senior official in the interior ministry. “Concerning the al-Arabiya crew, the entire media outfit had been targeted many times.”

At least three other al-Arabiya journalists and five of its support staff have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. The interior ministry said it was still investigating the recent killings and would study the IJA report.

Samim pointed out that international media organisations were increasingly relying on Iraqi journalists to provide news coverage, due to the frequent kidnapping of foreign reporters. "For this reason, we’re being judged and targeted because we’re in front of the news," he said.

"Iraq has become hell for journalists because wherever you go or whatever you do, you’re being targeted,” said local newspaper journalist Saleh Abdul-Kareem. “We depend on this work for a living and, day after day, more colleagues are being killed."

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called the recent deaths "a catastrophe for journalism". "It’s impossible to have independent coverage when media staff is being gunned down in this brutal conflict," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White in a 23 February statement published on their website.

The statement noted that five media workers had been killed in recent weeks. Last year, the federation recorded 35 deaths among journalists and media workers.

Some 112 people working for media organisations have been killed, either by insurgents or by US forces, since March 2003, according to data from the IJA. "No other country has reported so many deaths of journalists doing their duty," said Samim.


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