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Journalist killed; security forces attack media, protesters

Staff members of the Nalia satellite channel and security personnel inspect the channel's damaged television station in Sulaimaniya
Staff members of the Nalia satellite channel and security personnel inspect the channel's damaged television station in Sulaimaniya


A freelance journalist was gunned down outside his home in Mosul on 17 February, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Elsewhere in Iraq, security forces raided media groups and have been using live ammunition on protesters in some of the most blatant violations of free expression and free assembly, say RSF and Human Rights Watch.

Hilal al-Ahmadi, a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, was shot to death as he was leaving his home for work. According to Iraqi group Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), al-Ahmadi was well known as a writer, and much of his work focuses on financial and administrative corruption.

Iraq ranked first on CPJ's 2010 Impunity Index, which lists countries where journalists are murdered and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers. Not a single journalist's murder since 2003 has been seriously investigated by authorities, and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice, says CPJ.

The rights of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens are routinely violated with impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new report."Eight years after the U.S. invasion, life in Iraq is actually getting worse for women and minorities, while journalists and detainees face significant rights violations," said Human Rights Watch. "Today, Iraq is at a crossroads - either it embraces due process and human rights or it risks reverting to a police state."

Which path it is planning to take seems evident with recent events. On 23 February, private security forces raided the Baghdad headquarters of JFO, partner organisation of RSF and other IFEX members, and stole all of the group's computers and archives.

JFO director Ziyad Al-Ajili said, "They broke down doors and took all the equipment. They also took all of the JFO's archives. All of our work since 2004 has disappeared. And before leaving, they vandalised the entire office.

"The government is behind the attack. JFO is fighting for media freedom to become a reality in Iraq and, as such, clearly poses a threat to the authorities," al-Ajili alleged.

The attack on JFO was not an isolated one. Fifty masked gunmen raided Nalia, Kurdistan's first independent TV station, on 20 February, to prevent it from covering the unrest in Sulaimaniya, says RSF. Naliya had only started broadcasting on 17 February, the day that security guards opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Sulaimaniya, killing at least one person and wounding more than 33 others after the crowd threw rocks at the political headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

And on 16 February, Iraqi police in Kut opened fire on demonstrators, killing three and wounding more than 50, says Human Rights Watch.

According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of small-scale demonstrations have taken place across the country since early February, mainly centred on the chronic lack of electricity and widespread corruption. Numerous Internet groups have urged Iraqis to take to the streets on 25 February for a "Revolution of Iraqi Rage," one month after Egypt's "Day of Rage" - despite onerous provisions that effectively impede Iraqis from organising lawful protests.

At a news conference in Baghdad on 17 February, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said, "I have requested that the interior ministry not refuse to grant a permit for a demonstration to anyone, but at the same time, those who demonstrate must obtain the proper permits and refrain from rioting... Those who cause rioting will be tracked down."

Human Rights Watch's 102-page report, "At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the U.S.-led Invasion", calls on the government to protect the rights of vulnerable groups and to amend its penal code and all other laws that violate freedom of speech. The report also urges Baghdad to open independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of abuse against detainees, minorities and journalists.

"Iraq's future as a democratic society based on respect for fundamental human rights will in large part depend on whether Iraqi authorities will adequately defend those rights," Human Rights Watch said. "To do so, Iraqi authorities need to establish a credible criminal justice system meeting international standards with respect to torture, free expression, and violence against women and other vulnerable people in Iraq's society."

Related stories on
  • Raid prevents Kurdistan's first independent TV station from covering unrest

    Fifty masked gunmen carried out a raid on the headquarters of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT), in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.

  • Security guards open fire on protesters

    "As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iraq must protect and promote freedom of expression and association, and the right to assemble peacefully," said Human Rights Watch.

  • Journalist gunned down in Mosul

    The 50-year-old journalist wrote for several newspapers and was well known for his critical views, according to the Iraqi Journalist Syndicate (IJS).

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