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Court absolves US military of criminal responsibility in journalists' deaths; IFJ concerned over "culture of impunity"

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

As Iraq Media Death Toll Soars IFJ Warns United States Over "Culture of Impunity"

The International Federation of Journalists today said that the failure of the United States to respond to calls for independent investigation of cases where journalists and media staff have been killed by US soldiers is encouraging a culture of impunity in the killing of media staff around the world.

The IFJ says that journalists around the world feel the greatest outrage over terrorists and undemocratic governments who are mainly to blame for the routine and increasingly violent attacks against media and journalists.

"But when the world's leading democracy scorns the notion of justice for the victims of violence in its jurisdiction, it gives confidence to those who target journalists in countries where freedom hardly exists," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ was responding to a Spanish court ruling which last week absolved the US military of criminal responsibility in the killing of two journalists in Iraq three years ago. The Supreme Court ruled that US tank fire directed against the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where Spanish television journalist José Couso and Ukrainian journalist Taras Protsiuk, who worked for Reuters, were killed on 8 April 2003, was "an act of war carried out against an apparent enemy, incorrectly identified".

The court said Spain has "no jurisdiction" to pursue the case after the US refused to allow three named soldiers involved in the attack to co-operate with the court's investigation. The United States had provided "no judicial cooperation" in the investigation.

"Such a lack of co-operation can encourage a culture of impunity which is enjoyed by the enemies of press freedom and independent journalism," said White. "The crisis of impunity sees increasing intimidation, murder and kidnapping of journalists and media staff which is largely ignored and unpunished."

The IFJ is supporting the family of José Couso, who are appealing against the decision of the Supreme Court decision, and is also backing the calls for justice from the family and colleagues of Tareq Ayyoub, a journalist killed on the same day when US forces attacked the offices of the satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

"While there are still questions to be answered in 19 cases, the US at the very least should now give serious thought to an agreed formula for cooperation with media and journalists in the field, particularly in conflict situations," said White. The IFJ says that the US should follow the lead of its British counterparts who, in their Green Book of media operations, have formally recognised the issue of journalist safety in war: see http://www.newssafety.com/stories/insi/mod280206.htm.

The IFJ plans to organise worldwide protests on 8 April to highlight demands for action against impunity. This is the anniversary of the US attack on the Palestine Hotel, a media centre in Baghdad, and the bombing of Al Jazeera.

The IFJ notes that nine Iraqi journalists and media staff have been killed so far in 2006. Late yesterday, Muhsin Khudayyir, also known as Abu Risalah, chief editor of the weekly magazine Alif Ba, was assassinated by unidentified persons who attacked him in his place of residence in Al-Ilam district in Baghdad.

Over the weekend, gunmen assassinated a senior editor for Iraq's state television Al-Iraqiya, along with his driver, as they headed to work in Baghdad. Amjad Hameed had just left his house in central Baghdad when a car blocked his way and gunmen shot him in the head. Yesterday, an Iraqi militant group affiliated to al Qaeda said it was behind the killing.

On 7 March unidentified gunmen shot Munsuf Abdallah al-Khaldi, a Baghdad TV presenter, as he was driving from Baghdad to the northern city of Mosul. The attackers stopped the car and fired three bullets into al-Khaldi. One passenger was also killed and another two injured. Baghdad TV is owned by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the biggest Sunni political group. In the last year, two correspondents for the station have been killed.

These killings bring the number of journalists and media staff killed in Iraq since March 2003 to 114, says the IFJ. Most of the dead are local Iraqis and the majority have been victims of targeted assassination. Others died in incidents of crossfire.

The IFJ says that suffering of journalists in Iraq is intolerable and more must be done to relieve the pressure they face. On its own behalf and in co-operation with the International News Safety Institute, the global campaign for news safety, the IFJ has helped provide safety training for more than 150 journalists in Iraq.

The IFJ also remains concerned about the fate of three media staff - Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor, and the two Iraqi journalists Rim Zeid and Marwan Khazaal of Sumariya TV - who have been taken hostage and are held by violent extremists. In the last two years almost 60 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq, ten of whom have been murdered.

The IFJ, backed by its affiliates in both the United States and Iraq, is continuing to call for the immediate release of these three colleagues and an end to violence against journalists in Iraq.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries.

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