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WOMEN JOURNALISTS BECOMING TARGETS IN CONFLICT AREAS

Two Afghan reporters and an Iraqi journalist who received numerous death threats for her work covering sectarian violence were killed last week, in a string of attacks against women journalists in conflict areas, report ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, a correspondent for the National Iraqi News Agency and the independent news agency Voices of Iraq, was shot in Mosul on 7 June by four unidentified gunmen who escaped with her mobile phone, reports CPJ. Later, the gunmen answered her phone, saying that al-Haydari "went to hell."

Al-Haydari was also a correspondent for the London-based IWPR, an organisation that trains local journalists in war coverage. According to ARTICLE 19, al-Haydari wrote in a World Press Freedom Day (3 May) report that her name was included in a hit list of eight journalists that was being circulated throughout Mosul. Voices of Iraq says the list was issued by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq.

ARTICLE 19 reports that al-Haydari miraculously escaped after having been kidnapped in 2005 by a militant group. In March 2006, she was shot and badly injured as she was taking pictures of burned mosques. According to CPJ, she was twice targeted for abduction last year. Six months ago, her husband and four children relocated out of the country.

"Our psychological state is unbalanced because we live and think in fear and worry, and always think about our destiny and that of our family members, relatives and friends," al-Haydari told the "UK Press Gazette" earlier this year, on being a woman journalist in Iraq. "But I have never thought about quitting, as journalism is my life and I really love it."

Earlier in the week, two female journalists were gunned down in Afghanistan, report CPJ and RSF. Zakia Zaki, who ran the only independent broadcaster in Parwan province, Peace Radio, since 2001, was killed by multiple gunmen in Parwan province, north of Kabul, on 5 June. Peace Radio often airs shows on human rights, education and women's rights. According to CPJ, she was shot in the bedroom she shared with her children. She had been critical of warlords, who had recently warned her to shut down the station, CPJ says. RSF reports that six suspects have been arrested in connection with her death.

Less than a week earlier, popular TV presenter Shakiba Sanga Amaaj was shot dead in her home in Kabul. Several male relatives have been arrested in the killing of Amaaj, according to CPJ. According to the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), after Amaaj's and Zaki's deaths, the editor of a local news agency has received messages saying that she would be next.

"Women journalists have demonstrated particular tenacity and bravery in Afghanistan, Iraq, Uzbekistan and other Islamic countries, reporting on the human costs of conflict and the efforts of mostly male-dominated power structures to undermine democracy," says Anthony Borden, executive director of IWPR. "Women are vital agents of democratic change in these societies, and the recent tragic killings demonstrate the depth and violence of opposition to their efforts."

Meanwhile, in Iran, women protesters were again arrested for trying to collect one million signatures in the "Change for Equality" campaign to protest the country's discriminatory laws against women, reports Amnesty International. Two women were arrested in the run up to the first anniversary of a demonstration to demand equal rights for women. At the original protest, around 70 activists were arrested, some of whom were beaten by police.

And in Palestine, RSF reports that after women journalists of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation were threatened with beheading if they did not wear strict Islamic dress, they gathered outside the presidential palace in Gaza City on 3 and 4 June to demand protection from the authorities.

Visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19 on al-Haydari: http://tinyurl.com/2vq2f6
- CPJ on al-Haydari: http://tinyurl.com/2t4hr3
- IWPR: http://iwpr.net/?p=icr&s=f&o=336147&apc_state=henh
- Al-Haydari's most recent story, "Honour Killing Sparks Fears of New Iraqi Conflict": http://tinyurl.com/2dj9ep
- CPJ on Zaki: http://tinyurl.com/2sqjof
- Radio Free Europe on Zaki: http://tinyurl.com/2rfrdu
- Video documentary about Zaki: http://tinyurl.com/399zlm
- "IFEX Communiqué" story on Amaaj: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83923/
- Amnesty International on Iranian women activists: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE130712007
- RSF on Palestinian women journalists: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22414
(Photo: Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, courtesy of Journalistic Freedoms Observatory)

(12 June 2007)

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