• Fatalities and abductions plummet as security situation improves.
• Prime minister, others file lawsuits to harass media. Kurdish courts jail six journalists.
4: Journalists killed in connection to their work, the lowest tally since the war began in 2003.
Four Iraqi journalists were killed because of their work as the press continued to face great challenges and risks. Nevertheless, the death toll dropped to its lowest point since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and, for the first time in six years, Iraq was not the world’s deadliest nation for journalists. (It was replaced by the Philippines.) No journalists or media workers were reported abducted, reflecting another steep drop from prior years.
THE PRESS: 2009
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MIDDLE EAST and NORTH AFRICA
• Regional Analysis:
Human rights coverage spreads despite government pushback
• Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories
• Other developments
The marked decline in
media fatalities and abductions was consistent with an overall drop in violence
in recent years. Analysts cited a variety of factors, including the increasing
participation of Sunni groups and other sectarian elements in the political
process and the shift in security responsibilities from the
“The security situation
continued to improve because the political parties and insurgents kept losing
their armed powers,” said Ziad al-Ajili, director of the Journalistic Freedoms
Observatory, JFO, a local press freedom group. “The improvement in security has
reflected positively on the safety of journalists in
But improvements in
security were a matter of degree as deadly violence continued to strike in
As was the case in 2008,
all of the journalists killed in 2009 were Iraqis. All four were killed in
areas where tensions remained high between sectarian groups. Haidar Hashim
Suhail, a correspondent for the Iraqi-owned, Cairo-based Al-Baghdadia satellite
television network, and cameraman Suhaib Adnan were among more than 30 people
killed in a suicide bombing on March 10 in Abu Ghraib, west of
On May 31, Alaa
Abdel-Wahab, a sports reporter for Al-Baghdadia, was killed in
In October, Orhan Hijran,
a cameraman with Al-Rasheed television, was killed when a bomb exploded in
front of his house in the Al-Khadhrah neighborhood of southwestern
Iraqi authorities failed
to address impunity in journalist murders, one of the many brutal legacies of
the conflict. Of the 140 journalists killed in
For many journalists, government harassment, assaults, and legal action supplanted deadly insurgent violence as the most frequent work-related risk. “Officials don’t want journalists to write about things such as security issues, violations of human rights, lack of basic services, and corruption,” JFO director al-Ajili said. “They are imposing restrictions on journalists—and the direction they are taking is more toward authoritarianism.”
Numerous journalists were
harassed or assaulted by police during provincial elections in late January,
according to local and international news reports. In
Iraqi officials also brought legal action against domestic and international journalists. In February, a lawyer for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki filed a lawsuit against Ayad al-Zamli, owner of the German-based Arabic Web site Kitabat, and a writer who had written under the pseudonym of Ali Hussein, in connection with an article describing alleged nepotism in the prime minister’s office. The lawsuit demanded 1 billion dinars (US$865,380) in damages, according to a copy of the complaint. After local and international outcry, al-Maliki withdrew the lawsuit in May.
That same month, the Iraqi
National Intelligence Service (INIS) filed a defamation complaint against the
London-based Guardian newspaper for an article in which sources
characterized the prime minister as “increasingly autocratic,” the paper
reported. In November, in a move that drew condemnation from domestic and
international observers, a
One piece of legislation, while ostensibly benefitting journalists, also raised questions. A journalist protection measure—written in conjunction with the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate and pending in late year—was designed to aid the press by providing compensation for injured journalists, ensuring security for those under threat, and ensuring the right to obtain government information. But local and international press freedom advocates expressed concerns about several provisions in the draft. One article, for example, narrowly defined a journalist as someone who both works for an established news outlet and is affiliated with the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate. The provision was seen by some as imposing a licensing system on journalists.
Faruq Abdulqadir, the
minister of communications, conceded in a July interview with
Journalists spoke out
against government intimidation. In June, CPJ and JFO sent a letter to
al-Maliki expressing concerns about increasing official harassment. In the
first six months of the year, the two organizations documented more than 70
cases of harassment and assault against journalists in
The press faced heightened
restrictions even in the relatively secure
Jassim Muhammad, a reporter and a director of the media division of the Kurdistan Islamic Union in Zakho, an Islamist party with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, spent six days in January in a prison run by the Asaish, or security service, after he briefly launched a television station without a license, he told CPJ. Asaish charged him under the 1969 Iraqi penal code for “disobeying official orders”; Muhammad was acquitted in May.
In another case, Kawa Garmiani, a reporter with Khawn magazine, spent five days in prison in January in connection with defamation lawsuits filed by government agencies in Kalar, southeast of Sulaymaniyah. He had quoted sources as saying that the grounds of a Kalar hospital had become a favorite spot for a romantic rendezvous, he told CPJ.
A Kurdish court found that
a local newspaper defamed national and regional leaders when it printed a
translated version of a critical report by a
In April, Kurdish regional
authorities charged three people with plotting to murder Ahmed Mira,
editor-in-chief of the critical Sulaymaniyah-based Livin magazine, Mira and his lawyer, Othman Sidiq,
told CPJ. The news of the plot came a few months after unidentified gunmen
killed Soran Mama Hama, a Livin reporter in
One journalist was seriously
The journalist who caused an international spectacle when he threw a pair of shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush was convicted of assault against a public official. Muntadhar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia satellite television, was sentenced to a one-year prison term in February. Al-Zaidi, who tossed the shoes during a December 2008 press conference, was released in September for good behavior. Al-Zaidi told the press that he had suffered beatings, whippings, electric shocks, and simulated drowning at the hands of officials and guards.