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Iraqi Journalists Press Charges Over Assault At Protest

Riot policemen disperse protesters during a demonstration in Basra on March 4.

Riot policemen disperse protesters during a demonstration in Basra on March 4.

The Iraqi journalists' syndicate has taken the unprecedented step of filing charges against an Interior Ministry security unit and its commander for an assault on journalists who were covering a protest, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.

Nadhum al-Rubaie, a member of the administrative board of the syndicate, told RFE/RL on March 8 that its lawyers had filed criminal and civil actions against the Interior Ministry's antiriot unit for allegedly attacking five reporters who were covering a demonstration in the southern province of Basra on March 4.

Rubaie said that attacks on journalists should not be tolerated as journalists carry out a mission directly linked to the public interest. He added that the matter had been raised with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Hayder al-Mansuri, chairman of the syndicate's Basra chapter, told RFE/RL that when he tried to rescue his five colleagues by displaying his press card to a group of policemen, they responded by beating him with their truncheons.

Mansuri said the incident demonstrated the precarious state of press freedom in a province where Iraq's second city and only seaport is located.

Journalist syndicate member Hayder al-Saad told RFE/RL that Basra's journalists had unanimously agreed to boycott the provincial police force, and would stage a sit-in if the commander of the antiriot unit was not disciplined and members of his unit who attacked the reporters were not penalized.

The local government, as well as most political parties in the province, has strongly condemned the attack.

Acting Basra Governor Nazar al-Jabiri told RFE/RL on March 8 that "it pains us to see messengers of truth assaulted." He stressed that the incident was "an isolated case involving individuals."

Jabiri said the matter had been taken up at the highest level and an investigation is under way.

Speaking to RFE/RL, Brigadier General Ahmad Muhammad, who heads the team of investigators, vowed to bring those responsible to account. He said the injured reporters have been visited in hospital and statements taken from them for use in the inquiry.

Basra saw several Iraqi journalists gunned down during the worst years of violence, including two Iraqi journalists working for "The New York Times," who were killed in 2005. Now that security has improved, journalists are harassed primarily by government agencies.