A deadly day in Baghdad for journalists

Reporters Without Borders voiced shock at an armed attack on the privately-owned Iraqi TV station Al Shaabiya today that left at least eight employees dead and several wounded. The press freedom organised also expressed its concern about the steadily mounting number of journalists who are kidnapped and then executed, and the fact that one Iraqi journalist, Bilal Hussein, has now been held for six months by the US army in Baghdad.

“The toll of journalists killed mounts from day to day,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are also alarmed by the number of kidnappings of journalists. Each week we learn of another journalist who has been abducted and then executed once the kidnappers realise the family is unable meet their exorbitant ransom demand. Local journalists are the chief victims.”

The organisation added: “Journalists no longer dare to go around Baghdad in cars bearing the name the name of their news organisation or the word ’Press’ – a means of protection used by journalists in other dangerous places. We once again appeal to the Iraqi authorities to protect the media and to set up a special unit to investigate these murders.”

One killing after another

The identity of the group of gunmen who attack Al Shaabiya, a new TV station, is unclear. Witnesses said they wore police uniforms. After killing the guards outside, they went inside and shot at anyone they saw. Station director Abderrahim Nasrallah, producers Dhakir Hussein and Ahmed Shaaban, and five security guards were killed, while journalists Mishtak Al Maamuri and Mohammed Kazem Al Finiyin were wounded.

Local sources said the attack could have been carried out by a Shiite group that wanted to punish the station because it is funded by Libyan capital. Many Shiites blamed Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi for the kidnapping of Imam Musa Al-Sadr in Lebanon 28 years ago.

The body of journalist Azad Mohammed Hassan of radio Dar Essalam was meanwhile found in the Baghdad morgue on 10 October. He had been kidnapped 10 days before by an unidentified armed group in the north Baghdad district of Al Shaab. Marks on his body indicated he had been severely tortured.

51st journalist kidnapped since March 2003

Another journalist, Ali Karim, the editor of the weekly Nabd Al Shabab, was kidnapped in the east Baghdad neighbourhood of Al Amin while on his way to the newspaper on 9 October, becoming the 51st journalist to be abducted since the start of the war in March 2003. His abductors contacted the journalists’ union and demanded 50,000 dollars.

Journalist held by US army for six months

Bilal Hussein, a photographer who works for the Associated Press in Baghdad, has just completed his sixth month in US army detention for “security reasons.” He was arrested on 12 April on suspicion of links with the insurgents but no charges have ever been brought against him. Reporters Without Borders calls on the US authorities to quickly produce evidence against him or free him.

A total of 118 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war, while five are currently held hostage.