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Violence and threats hamper freedom of expression in Iraq

BAGHDAD, 25 January (IRIN) - Local journalists say they are unable to write freely about politics due to threats from insurgents and unknown sources.

Khalid Samim of the Iraqi Journalists Association (IJA) said the association had received more than 80 reports of threats against journalists from confirmed insurgents since the war began, and more than 100 from unknown sources. Threats appeared to target those writing about "government behaviour," Samim noted.

"We received 22 reports in January alone, and all of [the threatened journalists] had written about politics during the election period," he said.

"They want us to be blind to the ongoing violence in the country; to write about agriculture or culture instead of about car bombings or the hundreds who have been displaced," Samim complained.

In some cases, local journalists have been intimidated into leaving Iraq after reporting on politically sensitive issues.

"I wrote a story against the government during fighting in the Anbar governorate and the response was a continuous week of threats to my home," recalled Samir Muhammad, a journalist working for a local newspaper in the capital, Baghdad.

"I had to leave the country for a month for fear that they might do something to me," Muhammad added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, in an interview with the local press last week, encouraged journalists to write freely in order to convey Iraqi suffering to the world and make politicians aware of the country's problems.

Despite this official encouragement, though, some reporters express scepticism.

"Some people might believe these beautiful words [of the prime minister], but we know full well that speaking against politicians is just asking to be hurt," said Samim.

Since it began in March 2003, the war in Iraq has seen a total of 98 people working in the media killed by insurgents and, in a few cases, by the US military, according to the IJA.

International press-freedoms watchdog Reporters without Borders has called the conflict the most deadly for reporters since the Vietnam War.

The investigative arm of the Interior Ministry has confirmed that most threats it had investigated were from unidentified insurgents.

"We understand how difficult it is to write in Iraq, but we warn journalists to be careful," said Hakimat al-Barawi, a senior investigator at the ministry. "At least until the security situation can be better controlled."

Al-Barawi also noted that the ministry had information on "links" between some politicians and insurgents, although he declined to elaborate further.

Despite the dangers, however, local journalists have continued to work.

"Journalists are at continuous risk in Iraq, but if we stop reporting, no one will be responsible for showing the world the disasters here," said Muhammad.

"For this reason, we have to take the risk and tell the truth," he added.

Date posted: January 25, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10