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Armed group puts bounty on state TV reporter's head

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called on the Iraqi authorities to urgently establish a programme for protecting journalists after an armed group put a price on the head of public TV station Al-Iraqiya's correspondent in Diyala, an eastern province where at least six journalists have been murdered.

"It is vital that the Iraqi authorities at least try to guarantee the safety of journalists," the press freedom organisation said. "If nothing is done, more and more of Iraq's journalists will leave the country or change their profession. If that happens, diversity of news and information, which Iraq has obtained at great cost, would again be in danger."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The creation of a programme for journalists who want protection could dissuade armed groups. Patrols, regular telephone contact with news media or escorts are some of the solutions that would reassure journalists and help them emerge from the clandestinity to which many of them are condemned."

According to the Iraqi Association for the Defence of Journalists' Rights, the armed group known as the "Iraqi Islamic Nation" posted wanted notices on the walls of mosques and other buildings with a photo of Al-Iraqiya correspondent Mohammed Ali, describing him as an "infidel" and "criminal" and offering US$10,000 to anyone who eliminates him or helps locate him. The rights group said Ali had angered the "Iraqi Islamic Nation" by often criticising its activities in his reports.

At least six journalists have been murdered in Diyala since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003. Security has deteriorated in the province in part because many armed groups have moved there after being forced out of Baghdad by United States and Iraqi government forces.

In a separate development, unidentified arsonists set fire to the premises of the daily newspaper "Ashrakat Al-Sadr", the mouthpiece of the Sadrist movement, in the east Baghdad suburb of Al Baladiyat at dawn on 20 October 2007.

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