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Three journalists and their driver tortured, killed near Kirkuk; IFJ prepares safety strategy

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

IFJ Prepares Safety Strategy for Journalists as Brutality in Kirkuk Kills Four and Takes Iraq Media Deaths to More Than 200

The International Federation of Journalists, which is hosting a meeting in Iraq to devise a national safety strategy for journalists and media staff, today condemned the killings of three journalists and their driver, who were reportedly tortured and shot in Northern Iraq.

"These killings bring the media death toll to more than 200 and underscore just how urgent it is to confront the dangers facing journalists in Iraq," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White in Irbil, where the IFJ conference for journalists' leaders from around the country opens tomorrow. "Our colleagues in Iraq are in constant danger. We need to develop a practical programme that will reduce the risks they face and we need it as soon as possible."

Tomorrow's meeting is a joint action organised by the IFJ's two Iraqi affiliates. It will prepare a detailed strategy for confronting the security crisis for Iraqi journalists. The delegates from around Iraq were shocked to hear of the killing of three colleagues and their driver in Kirkuk as they arrived for the conference. Earlier in the day Irbil had been rocked by a bomb blast in a separate incident that killed 14 people.

The journalists who died were Raad Mutashar, chairman of Kirkuk writers' union and owner of media company al-Raad, which publishes newspapers and periodicals, and Imad Abdul-Razzaq al-Obeidi and Aqeel Abdul-Qader, both writers working for al-Raad. According to local reports, they were dragged from their car, tortured and shot. Their driver, Nibras Razzaq, was also killed.

Police said gunmen intercepted the journalists southwest of Kirkuk near the small town of Rashad and they believe they were targeted because they were journalists.

"This shocking event, which appears to be a deliberate and vicious attack, illustrates all too well how the scourge of violence has devastated journalism in Iraq," said White. "But now journalists themselves are determined to challenge the killers and to demand that the authorities take action to provide them with more protection."

The IFJ meeting, hosted by the Kurdish Journalists' Syndicate and co-organised with the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, involves media and government representatives from throughout the country. Working with the International News Safety Institute and the IFJ, participants will be developing a national safety plan for media.

On Sunday, Dmitry Chebotayev, a freelance Russian photographer on assignment for Russian Newsweek, was killed in a roadside bomb attack north of Baghdad while on patrol with U.S. forces, six of whom were also killed. He was the first Russian journalist killed in Iraq.

At least 204 journalists and media workers have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. At least 31 journalists have been killed since the start of this year. The victims have been overwhelmingly Iraqi and they have been attacked in their offices, while on assignment and even in their own neighbourhoods.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide.

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