This April 8, 2003 photo of blood on the camera of an injured photographer at Baghdad's Palestine Hotel has become emblematic on the websites of Iraqi organizations concerned with the safety of media workers.
A prominent media rights group has registered its concern with northern Iraqi authorities over the conditions of press freedom and journalists' safety in Iraqi Kurdistan. Below is full text of a letter sent Monday from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, expressing the media watchdog's alarm over recent threats and targeting of Iraqi journalists in the northern region of Iraq. The letter, which was sent in English and Kurdish, is signed by Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director.
August 4, 2008
His Excellency Massoud Barzani, President of Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq
Office of Kurdistan Regional Government
1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 210
Washington, D.C. 20006
Via facsimile: (202) 637-2723
Dear President Barzani,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the wave of threats against journalists in northern Iraq in the last few weeks. CPJ has documented an alarming number of cases recently, ranging from the murder of a journalist to an attack on another by a mob to at least three death threats directed at journalists in less than a month.
The Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, which has begun issuing periodic reports on threats against the press, noted that in the first six months of 2008 there were around 60 cases of killings, attacks, threats, and lawsuits against journalists in the region. In addition, at least one journalist has disappeared since March 2008, they said.
CPJ conducted a two-week fact-finding mission to Arbil and Sulaymania in October and November 2007 and found that the increasing assertiveness of the independent press has triggered a spike in repression over the last three years.
On July 22, Soran Mama Hama, 23, a reporter with the Sulaymania-based Livin magazine, was shot by unidentified gunmen in front of his home in Kirkuk, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. Mama Hama had received threatening messages before the slaying, local journalists told CPJ today. He had written articles critical of local authorities, they said.
On July 25, Yahya Ahmed, 38, a reporter with the Sulaimaniyah-based Awene newspaper, who had been injured in a suicide attack while covering a demonstration in Kirkuk on July 25, was attacked by an angry mob, he told CPJ. A video was taken by a colleague and posted on Awene's Web site. A voice from the crowd shouts in it, "Kill him! Kill him!" Ahmed survived the attack, but his equipment, including his camera and two cell phones, were destroyed and his press badges taken, he said.
On July 30, Amanj Khalil, 28, a journalist with Rudaw, an Arbil-based newspaper, escaped an assassination attempt near his home, he told CPJ. On July 28, Khalil had received an anonymous phone call warning him to "either to write an apology" for an article he had written on July 28 about the emergence of Ansar al-Islam, or he will "face serious consequences," he told CPJ. This was the fourth threatening call that Khalil has received since March 2007. He said he believes the threats have been a direct result of his work.
On July 25, Soran Omar, 30, a contributor to Livin magazine and editor-in-chief of the Web site Kurdistan News Daily, received around a dozen phone calls from four different numbers threatening him to quit working for Livin or he "will face the same fate as Soran Mama Hama," Omar told CPJ.
On July 14, soon after an issue of Livin hit the newsstand, Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Mira received a phone call from an unknown person threatening, "You will pay the price for what you are publishing," Mira told CPJ. The magazine had published a story about one of the main Kurdish parties in that issue, he said. He said he has also received several messages calling him a traitor or a spy. Mira told CPJ that since 2006 Livin has received at least one threat after publishing each issue of its magazine.
Not one suspect has been prosecuted for killing or harassing these journalists, according to our research. While we note that your office has condemned the killing of Soran Mama Hama, according to Kurdish news reports, we now urge you to condemn all threats and attacks on journalists and immediately launch thorough public investigations to prosecute those who are behind them. Journalists working under the threat of violence must have assurances that your government will use all the resources at its disposal to ensure that they can carry out their work.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We look forward to your response.
President Jalal Talabani
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Kurdistan Regional Government
Ryan Crocker, United States Ambassador to Iraq
Christopher Prentice, United Kingdom Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq
Adnan Mufti, Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament
Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations
Osman Hajy Mohamud and Mr. Kareem Sinjari, Ministers of Interior-KRG
Faruq Jamil Sadiq, Minister of Justice-KRG
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq
Freedom of Expression and Democracy Unit, UNESCO
Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate
Journalistic Freedoms Observatory
World Press Freedom Committee
Human Rights Watch
International Center for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Index on Censorship
Overseas Press Club of America
Society of Professional Journalists
World Association of Newspapers