Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Iraq Is The Most Dangerous Place In The World For Journalists

On June 1, 2011, the Committee to Protect Journalists released their latest ranking of the most dangerous countries for the media. Iraq was ranked number one for the fourth straight year. While the report looked only at unsolved murders, the country has also gone through a wave of media repression that coincided with national protests that started at the beginning of the year.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) looked at countries with the most unsolved murders of reporters from 2001 to 2010. The organization believes that in those nations, the media can become severely restricted as it tends to stay away from stories that could threaten the lives of their staff. 13 countries were included in the report, and had the number of unsolved cases divided by the total population, which gave each country a rating.

Iraq was at the top of the list for the fourth straight year. Iraq had 92 unsolved cases in the last decade, by far the most of any country included in the ranking. The Philippines had the second most at 56, but then that dropped down to 16 in Russia. With an estimated population of 31 million, Iraq had the highest rating at 2.921 unsolved murders of journalists per 1 million inhabitants. That was more than double Somalia that was number two at 1.099.

Committee To Protect Journalists' Ranking Of Most Dangerous Countries For Reporters 
Number of Unsolved Murders
1. Iraq
2. Somalia
3. Philippines
4. Sri Lanka
5. Colombia
6. Afghanistan
7. Nepal
8. Mexico
9. Russia
10. Pakistan
11. Bangladesh
12. Brazil
13. India

Within Iraq, the Committee reported an increase in attacks against the media. It found that while general violence in the country that might affect reporters had gone done, targeted attacks upon journalists went up in 2010 after there was a decline in the previous years. In 2010 there were a total of four murders of members of the media. The one case that the report highlighted was that of Kurdish writer Zardasht Osman. In May 2010, Osman was kidnapped in front of his college in Irbil, tortured, and then killed by two shots to the head. (1) His body, which was tied up, was later dumped in Mosul in Ninewa province. His family and friends thought the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was involved because he had criticized its leaders. His death led to protests in Irbil and Sulaymaniya. KRG President Massoud Barzani then ordered an investigation. Osman was a freelance writer for several Kurdish websites. According to his family, he had been receiving threatening phone calls since the beginning of the year after he wrote a satirical piece about Barzani for a Swedish based website. His death was also taken up by the opposition party, the Change List, which implied that government forces must have been involved. When the authorities finally released their report a few months later it claimed that Osman was killed by insurgents for refusing to work with them, something that few believed. Some claimed that Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was simply trying to cover up the murder. It is unresolved crimes like this that placed Iraq atop the Committee’s report.
2010 Protest In Irbil over death of writer Zardasht Osman (Agence France Presse)
Overall, the Iraqi media has been under attack in the first half of 2011. One main factor was the protest movement that started in the country in January. Outlets that tried to cover the demonstrations were routinely harassed, attacked, and had their reporters arrested and their equipment taken. On February 23, the offices of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory were raided by the security forces in Baghdad. February 25 was the “Day of Rage” when national protests were held, and the government banned live television coverage of that day’s events. Al-Diyar TV did not follow the order, which resulted in the police breaking into their station and arresting seven staff members. On that same day, authorities beat a reporter for Reuters in Karbala and one for Radio Sawa in Mosul who were trying to cover the demonstrations. The Iraqi Society for Defense of Press Freedom later claimed that dozens of reporters had been arrested that day as well. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory later said that there had been 160 attacks upon the media from the end of February to the beginning of March. That included 33 reporters arrested, 40 stopped from doing their job by having their equipment taken or damaged, 12 were beaten by security forces, and nine media organizations were raided or closed by government, only five of which were able to reopen afterward. In April, the Iraqi Association for Defending Journalists accused the government of clamping down on reporters trying to cover the protests, and by May the Journalistic Observatory claimed that there were 372 attacks upon the media since the protests started. Human Rights Watch tried to document some of the cases in Kurdistan such as the NRT Television station who had its offices burned down in February, two freelance journalists who went into hiding in April claiming that the authorities were after them, and a reporter for the Kurdistan News Network who was arrested and had his hand broken in Sulaymaniya on May 11. The Iraqi Association for Defending Journalists claimed there were 226 reports of abuse against journalists in Sulaymaniya alone, which was the center of demonstrations in Kurdistan. Even if the protest movement had not started, the media in Iraq faces the threat of lawsuits by the government. The Journalistic Observatory said that there were 90 lawsuits filed by authorities against reporters in the first five months of the year. During 2010 there were only 117 suits in total.
Reporter being repeatedly hit by police during protest in Basra, March 4, 2011 (Associated Press)
For decades, reporting in Iraq has not been easy. First, there was the near totalitarian rule of Saddam Hussein where the government was feared. Then the U.S. invasion in 2003 unleashed a wave of new media outlets, but the violence from the insurgency and the sectarian civil war of 2005-207 threatened their work. Now that the fighting has subsided considerably journalists should finally be enjoying the freedom that the New Iraq is supposed to offer. Their attempts to cover the 2011 demonstrations however, showed the limits that they still face. The central and Kurdish regional governments both cracked down on outlets that were trying to cover the unrest by threats, intimidation, arrests, and beatings. Even regular reporting that criticizes government officials can lead to lawsuits. Many newspaper and magazines are also directly related to political parties so they are used for propaganda as well. Even though the Iraqi constitution ensures press freedom as part of its democratic rights the country is still a long way away from realizing that ideal.


1. AK News, “Demo in protest of the killing of a student in Erbil,” 5/9/10


Agence France Presse, “Iraq has most unsolved murders of journalists: watchdog,” 6/1/11

AK News, “Demo in protest of the killing of a student in Erbil,” 5/9/10
- “Tensions Deepen between Goran and KDP,” 5/18/10

Amnesty International, “Days Of Rage, Protests and Repression In Iraq,” April 2011

Aswat al-Iraq, “Feb. 25th – Bad Day for freedom of press and democracy in Iraq:,” 2/26/11

BNO News, “Over 160 attacks against Iraqi journalists, media institutions in two weeks,” 3/10/11

Committee to Protect Journalists, “Getting Away With Murder,” 6/1/11

Dagher, Sam, “Abducted Kurdish Writer Is Found Dead in Iraq,” New York Times, 5/6/10
- “Killing of Journalist Inflames Iraqi Kurds,” New York Times, 5/10/10

Gunter, Michael, “Between Baghdad and Ankara: The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Delicate Balance,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 11/11/10

Human Rights Watch, “Iraqi Kurdistan: Growing Effort to Silence Media,” 5/24/11

Institute for War & Peace Reporting, “Storm Gathers Over Slain Journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan,” 5/24/10

Al-Jourani, Flaiyeh, “Violence against journalists soars in some Iraqi provinces,” AK News, 4/6/11

Al-Mandalawi, Bashar, “Attacks on journalists up 55%,” AK News, 5/3/11

Shelton, Tracey, “”The Other Iraq” not so free after all,” Global Post, 5/29/11

Smith, Patrick, “Iraq worst in journalist murder rankings,” AK News, 5/29/11

Van Wilgenburg, Wladimir, “CPJ: Impunity Plagues Cases of Journalists in Kurdistan and Iraq,” Rudaw, 6/1/11


Dinar said...

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Joel Wing said...

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