Thursday, June 11, 2009

Journalists under assault in Iraq, yesterday's bombing

After one hour of suffering, I reached the place and the cars which picked the journalists moved to the place. We waited for about 15 minutes near the gate of the ministry. This short time was more than enough for a problem to happen. The guards of the ministry of displaced and immigrants which is near the defense ministry told us that we have to gatherr in one place and we are not allowed to spread in the street. That was enough to get everyone crazy. I told the guard that he doesn't have the right to say so because we are waiting for the permission to enter the defense ministry. he said "this is the gate of a ministry" I was really surprised but I quickly answered him "yes an Iraqi ministry for all Iraqis and we are Iraqis and you must realize that the ministry doesn't own the street." He ordered me to move but I refused and told him simply "Its an Iraqi street and I can stand wherever I like." The discussion got hotter but after some reporters involved, some of them asked me in a very nice way to ignore the guard and I did.

The above is an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers detailing the intimidation tactics reporters face daily in "The Needed Change Didn't Happen Yet" (Inside Iraq) -- intimidation tatics of the al-Maliki government. The US had just installed Nouri al-Maliki a little over a month prior when he began his first noted assault on the press (part of his 'crackdown' ideas -- the bulk of which, such as neighborhood watch militias, had already been set up but al-Maliki contributed the attack on journalism all by himself). Life was already deadly for journalists in Iraqi (both Iraqi journalists and foreign ones) before al-Maliki but the strong man has shaped the country more than most realize. (They also don't grasp that he's attempting to set himself up for life, to become the new Saddam.) The attacks include the daily abuses. For example, a gun pulled on a New York Times journalist and the trigger pulled . . . as a 'joke.' And no one gets disciplined for that. Nouri fosters and encourages the hostility towards the journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists' "CPJ, JFO cite press freedom abuses in Iraq" contains a letter they sent al-Maliki:

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 shows 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 filing 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 offenses.
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.


Joel Simon
Executive Director, CPJ

Ziad al-Ajily
Director, JFO

Meanwhile Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports that Nouri's making more threatening noises, insisting that violence will likely increase between now and the elections (currently scheduled for January but they may end up pushed back). Between now and the elections? Yes, that would be over six months. Yes, that would be over half a year. He apparently figured (rightly) that the United Nations would be issuing the same warning shortly (as they did ahead of the provincial elections held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces last January 31st) and he wanted to get a jump on them. Chon notes national elections have now been merged with the referendum on the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement. Noting that again in case any Spency Ackerman's still haven't caught on that the vote on the referendum which was supposed to take place next month has been kicked back to January.

Yesterday a bombing in Bathaa resulted in mass deaths and mutliple wounded. In this morning's New York Times, Rod Nordland offers "Iraqis Attack Police After Bombing" which includes this on Iraqis stoning the police:

"Our men, our women and our children have been killed right in front of police eyes, and they did nothing. Now they come here to push around the poor people who lost their relatives," said Abu Ali al-Rekabi, 52, a laborer who was among the protesters.
Police officers fired automatic weapons toward the demonstrators, dispersing them but also wounding one, according to a police official. The trouble subsided after local officials intervened to calm residents.

Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) adds this on the bombing:

Body parts mingled with onions, potatoes and eggplant lying in pools of blood. Fires burned afterward, near the charred carcass of the black car that delivered the explosives. A numbed silence that ensued was broken by the moans of the dying.
"We have done nothing to anyone!" shouted a woman who identified herself as Um Mohammed. She said her husband was killed in the blast. Next to her, her son banged his head on a wall. "Why would this happen to us?" she asked.

Meanwhile NPR offers . . . an AP text report on the bombing. Apparently the McBurger Money is being rationed because it's been forever since NPR filed a story from Iraq.

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gina chon
the wall street journal
the washington post
anthony shadid
the new york times
rod norland
mcclatchy newspapers