Killings threaten free press in Iraq

Daoud Al-Ganabi (left) and Moauad Allamy explaining the plight of Iraqi journalists Keystone

Iraqi journalists have appealed to the Swiss government to intervene to stop the ongoing "massacre" of colleagues by unidentified armed groups.

This content was published on April 16, 2007 - 21:44

At a meeting in Geneva on Monday the Iraqi Union of Journalists accused the international community of doing nothing to protect its members against a reign of terror that has claimed hundreds of lives.

Moauad Allamy, the union's secretary-general, said "an agenda to kill journalists" in the country was threatening the future existence of the free press in Iraq.

"If the situation continues, what will be left is the official Iraqi media and the media which is protected by the coalition forces," he warned.

He said newsgathering was already suffering and the world was not getting the full picture of events in the country.

"The problem we face is that the United Nations... [has] not done anything to date for Iraqi journalists nor for their families," added Allamy.

"I call upon the Swiss government to intervene among all UN agencies on its territory and ask them to support Iraqi journalists and secure safe havens for some of them."

Death threats

According to Allamy, more than 220 Iraqi journalists have been killed since the United States-led invasion four years ago and the death toll is rising daily. The union says 40 per cent of its 5,000 members have received death threats.

Jihad Al-Hreshawi, editor of Iraq's Al Sabah newspaper, said journalists trying to cover events in Iraq faced a "barbaric existence", living in fear for their lives.

Al-Hreshawi, who said he had received many death threats, added that the current security situation made it extremely difficult to access information and sources.

The seven-strong Iraqi delegation hopes to use Tuesday's international conference in Geneva on the country's refugee crisis to draw attention to their plight.

They have already written to the new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. They also want the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session to discuss protection for journalists worldwide.

Uneasy relationship

The union blames all parties, including government and coalition forces, for targeting journalists. It says relations with the state have improved since last year, but the destruction of the union's headquarters by coalition troops in February shows that it remains an uneasy relationship.

Allamy told Monday's news conference that he believed the assault was an attempt "to limit the voice of Iraqi journalists".

He and his members are calling on the Iraqi government and "occupation forces" to guarantee better protection for journalists, to investigate journalist deaths fully and to make more effort to find kidnapped journalists. Fourteen are missing at present.

"We wake up every day in Iraq and see the names of our colleagues among the victims," said Daoud Al-Ganabi, editor of the Al Haqaeq newspaper, who claims to have survived two assassination attempts.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

Key facts

The seven-strong Iraqi delegation was invited to Switzerland by the Press Emblem Campaign.
The Geneva-based organisation seeks to strengthen the legal protection and safety of journalists around the world.

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UN conference

A two-day UN conference, which starts in Geneva on Tuesday, will address the growing number of people fleeing Iraq to escape daily suicide bombings, abductions and other atrocities that have made the country one of the world's worst refugee crises.

Exact figures on the people fleeing their homes are hard to obtain, but the UN refugee agency estimates that around two million have fled to neighbouring countries. In addition around 1.9 million Iraqis have been displaced within the country.

More than 450 officials from around 60 countries and numerous aid workers are expected to attend the meeting.

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