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Life sentence for militants who held two French journalists hostage in 2004

(RSF/IFEX) - A Baghdad court gave two alleged Sunni militants life sentences on 22 September 2010 after convicting them of the 2004 abduction of French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot and their Syrian guide, who were held hostage for 124 days.

"We hail this conviction and we hope that the impunity so long enjoyed by the murderers and kidnappers of journalists will cease to be the rule in today's Iraq," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.

In a report entitled "Iraq War: a heavy death toll for the media 2003-2010" released on 7 September, Reporters Without Borders condemned the failure to punish those responsible for killing so many journalists since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003

In its conclusions, the report said: "In 2007, four years after Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior initiated investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deliberate and targeted attacks on hundreds of information professionals in order to identify the perpetrators and bring them before Iraqi courts. Yet to date, only an insignificant number of cases have led to arrests. The majority of the killers are still enjoying total impunity, which is dampening hopes for a future democratic Iraq."

At least 93 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq since 2003. Of these, at least 47 were freed safe and sound, and 32 were executed. The fate of at least 14 of the Iraqi media personnel kidnapped since 2003 is not known.

The abduction of journalists, especially foreign ones who are easily spotted and for whom a sizable ransom can be demanded, has been a macabre business in Iraq that began to take off in April 2004. The victims have included British, Turkish, American, Czech, French, Italian and Japanese journalists. Hardly any nationality seems to have been spared. Iraqis working for foreign reporters also increasingly became targets.

The foreign country that was most affected was France, which was not a member of the US-led military coalition. A total of nine French journalists were kidnapped.

All the French journalists and their Iraqi assistants who were kidnapped were finally released uninjured. Only one foreign journalist, Italian freelancer Enzo Baldoni, was killed by his abductors. Aged 56 and working for the independent weekly "Diario della Settimana", Baldoni was executed on the night of 26 August 2004.

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