Director-General condemns ferocious and systematic attacks on the media in IraqThe Director-General of UNESCO, Koďchiro Matsuura, today condemned the ferocious and systematic attacks against the media in Iraq, calling for determined action to enable journalists to carry out their work in the country. His statement was issued following the deadliest attack on a media outlet to date and several other acts of violence against and journalists and support workers.
On 12 October gunmen stormed the fledgling Shaabiya satellite television station in Baghdad killing 11 people including the channel’s General Director, Abdul-Rahim Nasrallah al-Shimari, who also heads the National Justice and Progress Party, which owns the station. The channel was due to start regular broadcasts in late October.
This was the second attack on an Iraqi TV station in as many weeks. A car bomb exploded outside the Al-Rafidain TV station on 1 October killing two pedestrians and injuring five station employees.
On October 3, Azad Muhammad Hussein, 29, a reporter for Radio Dar Al-Salam, was kidnapped from the al-Shaab neighbourhood in northern Baghdad. His body, reportedly showing signs of torture, was identified in the city morgue a week later.
Since then, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that unidentified gunmen kidnapped Ali Kareem, editor-in-chief of the private weekly Nabad Al-Shabab, in southern Baghdad on 9 October. The kidnappers are said to have demanded US$50,000 ransom from the journalist’s family.
On 4 October, Jassem Hamad Ibrahim, a driver for Al-Iraqiya television was shot dead shortly after driving TV camera operators around the city of Mosul for footage.
“I condemn the ferocious and systematic attacks on journalists and media outlets in Iraq,” declared the Director-General. “The international community and the authorities in Iraq, must take determined action to support the media in this appalling struggle over freedom of expression, a basic human right that is the cornerstone to all human rights.
“The reconstruction of a democracy and the return to peace and rule of law in a country that has suffered so much violence and oppression over decades,” he added, “depend to a significant extent on the ability of both public service and independent media to carry out their work. Improving the safety of the valiant professionals who work in such appalling conditions and at such personal risk must be recognized as a priority.
“Meanwhile, I can but pay tribute to the incredible courage of those killed in the attack on Shaabiya television: Abdul-Rahim Nasrallah al-Shimari and his bodyguard Ali Jabber; Deputy General Manager Noufel al-Shimari; presenters Thaker al-Shouwili and Ahmad Sha’ban; Administrative Manager Sami Nasrallah al-Shimari; video mixer Hussein Ali; three guards of whom I only know the first names: Maher, Ahmad and Hassan; and the as yet unnamed operator of the station’s generator. I also wish to express the sincere hope for the full recovery of Programme Manager Mushtak al-Ma’mouri and News Chief Muhammad Kathem who were seriously injured in the attack.
“I must also pay my respects to Azad Muhammad Hussein and Jassem Hamad Ibrahim. I hope that the solidarity we feel for their sacrifice will help mobilize the energy required to win the war against the murderers who want to keep the people of Iraq in the dark. I also hope that Ali Kareem will soon be free to rejoin the ranks of newspaper editors and journalists committed to keeping the people of Iraq and the world informed of events in their country.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 85 journalists and 35 media workers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press in the past quarter century.
UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom. Article 1 of its Constitution requires the Organization to “further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.” To realize this the Organization is requested to “collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image…”