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Press freedom abuses cited in letter to prime minister

(CPJ/IFEX) - CPJ and the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) have documented a number of assaults and instances of harassment committed by government officials against journalists in various parts of the country.

June 10, 2009

Nuri al-Maliki
Prime Minister of Iraq
C/O Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
3421 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

Via Facsimile: 202-333-1129

Dear Prime Minister al-Maliki,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) would like to bring to your attention several issues that harm press freedom in Iraq. In recent months, our organizations have documented a number of assaults and instances of harassment committed by government officials against journalists in various parts of the country under the control of Iraq's central government.

Since 2003, the press in Iraq has made significant strides as hundreds of independent, party- or state-run newspapers, radio and television stations have emerged. Unfortunately, along with that progress Iraqi journalists have paid a steep price. For the past six years Iraq has topped CPJ's list as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. As of June 9, CPJ has documented the deaths of 139 journalists and 51 media workers in Iraq since March 2003. Three were killed this year. JFO's records show an even higher number of killed journalists and media workers.

In May, at the Iraqi Journalism Summit in Baghdad, you said, "We are proud that we don't have a single imprisoned journalist because of freedom of expression." CPJ and the Observatory commend your government for this, but call on you to press the U.S. military to release Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, who has been held in a U.S. military prison since September 2008 without charge.

In recent months many journalists have faced harassment and in some cases assault by Iraqi security forces. In other cases, high-ranking government officials have used lawsuits as a political tool to obstruct and silence the news media.

In order to improve the working environment for journalists in Iraq, CPJ and JFO call on your government to take the following steps:

- Press the U.S. military to respect the decision of the Iraqi courts and immediately release Ibrahim Jassam.

- Publicly condemn violent attacks and acts of intimidation against journalists. Investigate and bring to justice those who are responsible for killing, attacking, or harassing journalists.

- Direct government agencies to halt the filing of politically motivated lawsuits against journalists and publications.

- Direct all relevant security and military forces to end the use of force to harass or prevent journalists from doing their work.

- Suspend or amend articles 81, 82, 83, 84, 201, 202, 210, 211, 215, 225, 226, 227, 403, 433 and 434 of Law 111/1969, more commonly known as the 1969 penal code. These provisions criminalize and set harsh penalties for press related offences.

- Ensure all other laws, present and future, are in compliance with international standards for free expression.

Attached to this letter is a short report in which CPJ and JFO document with more specificity violations against journalists since the beginning of this year.

Thank you in advance for your attention to these important matters. We look forward for your response.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director of CPJ

Ziad al-Ajily
Director of JFO

Click here to read the report, "Assaults, threats, and legal actions against journalists in Iraq"

Research and reporting by Mariwan Hama-Saeed, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program research associate. Additional research provided by the Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedom Observatory.

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