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The risks run by Iraqi journalists trying to do their job have changed considerably over the past two years. Targeted attacks by militiamen or terror groups have all but disappeared, even though in 2009 alone three journalists were killed and five others wounded in suicide bombings.
The threat to Iraqi media staff today comes above all from the authorities or political figures that block them from gaining access to certain areas. Abusive measures and legal proceedings against newspapers for “defamation” have become commonplace. Even media that are considered to be pro-government cannot escape this pressure, any more than journalists working in Kurdistan.
Alongside court proceedings and the resulting heaving fines, there has been an upsurge in threats to the safety and physical wellbeing of some independent journalists. Armed groups, but also Iraqi police and the authorities responsible for law and order have all threatened or committed acts of violence against them.
In one such case, the journalist Ahmed Abd al-Hussein, of the government daily al-Sabah, received death threats and was the target of a hate campaign launched by the Islamic Superior Council after he wrote an article, on 4 August 2009, implicating the council in an armed bank holdup in Baghdad at the end of July 2009.
In another incident, unknown assailants on 29 October attacked prominent Kurdish investigative journalist, Nabaz Goran, editor of the independent bi-monthly Kurdish-language newspaper Jehan (World). His attackers were suspected of being members of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Imad Abadi, a star journalist on independent al-Diyar television and a tireless activist for press freedom in Iraq, was the target of a murder attempt in Baghdad on the evening of 23 November 2009.
A draft law for the protection of journalists promoted by the journalists’ union is still being debated in parliament. Iraqi journalists joined a demonstration in Baghdad called by the Iraqi Journalistic Freedom Observatory on 14 August 2009 to protest against the constant attacks that undermine their capacity to do their jobs properly.
The Iraqi authorities have also resorted to online censorship. The culture ministry has drafted a law to censor some websites, but its vague and imprecise wording could open the way – if it is adopted by parliament – to serious violations of the right to information.
There is a serious risk that forthcoming legislative elections on 6 March 2010 could further increase the difficulties being experienced by the media in Iraq.
As well as these threats to the safety of Iraqi journalists, American forces have kept the local press under considerable pressure and have, since 1st September 2008, held Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, despite a ruling by Iraq’s central criminal court on 30 November 2008 acquitting him and ordering his release.
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