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Iraq: CPJ Says Conflict Deadliest For Journalists In Decades

Four journalists were injured when Baghdad's Al-Hamra hotel was bombed in November 2005 (AFP) The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says Iraq has become the deadliest conflict for journalists to cover in nearly a quarter-century. In all, 61 journalists have died while covering the Iraq conflict, more than 75 percent of them Iraqis. That total is higher than the 58 newspeople killed reporting on the Algerian civil war of 1993 to 1996 -- the previous most deadly conflict since the CPJ began keeping records 24 years ago.

PRAGUE, 14 February 2006 (RFE/RL) – The Committee to Protect Journalists has just released its annual review of threats faced by the media worldwide.

The report, "Attacks on the Press 2005," says Iraq has now become the deadliest conflict for reporters since the 24–year-old media advocacy group began keeping its records.

The CPJ says 22 reporters were killed in Iraq last year. Of those killed, three-quarters were Iraqis. Another journalist has already been killed this year. The groups says that most of the deaths were from insurgent attacks. Other journalists were targeted for death by assassinations.

Radio Free Iraq's Baghdad bureau chief Moayed al-Haidari says the report confirmed what Iraqi journalists have long known. While international press attention is usually on foreign journalists who are killed or kidnapped, it is Iraqi newspeople who face the greatest pressures. He said that pressure is aimed at silencing a free press that extremist groups in the Iraqi conflict perceive as dangerous to their interests.

'Most Dangerous Place In The World'

"Here in Baghdad, I think, everybody knows that it is maybe the most dangerous place in the world," al-Haidari said. "But it is doubly or triply dangerous for journalists because some people here can't understand your aim and your skills. Some people are afraid of you because they think you are an enemy to them. Some people have it in mind that all the media are dangerous to them, especially the extremist parties."

Al-Haidari also said that while foreign news organizations may spend large amounts on trying to assure the security of reporters that are rotated frequently in and out of Iraq, local media have to try to protect themselves as best they can.

"My day begins with being worried from the morning. I check my gate of my house, I have to check the street, I have to be careful, maybe there is somebody waiting for me, to shoot me. And I always have to be worried, even when I drive my car or a driver drives me to the bureau or to the location of an interview, I have to always be alert. I have to be afraid of kidnapping and killing," al-Haidari said.

He said kidnappings, both as a prelude to assassination or to demand ransom, are a constant danger. "Two weeks ago, two people working for a local Iraqi television channel were kidnapped and until now I have been following their case and there is no news but we are waiting to find their bodies or to get a message from the kidnappers asking for money," al-Haidari said.

According to the CPJ report, such emotions are familiar to journalists working in many other quieter parts of the world, as well. The report notes that, worldwide, "murder" is the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists. Usually, the killers go unpunished. In 2005, the CPJ says, 90 percent of the killings "were carried out with impunity."

In The Name Of The War On Terror

The CPJ also notes that independent media remain subject to pressure in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, and this pressure is often exerted in the name of state security. The media advocacy group places some of the blame for that trend on Washington.

Uzbek journalist Galima Bukharbaeva left Uzbekistan after covering the Andijon violence in 2005 (courtesy photo)

CPJ researcher Alex Lupis writes that "the [U.S.] administration's antiterrorism agenda has made it easier for the region's resourceful authoritarian leaders to justify repressive media policies in the name of security." The CPJ notes that in Uzbekistan "the massacre of citizens by government troops [in Andijon] was followed by a brutal press crackdown.”

Looking worldwide, the media advocacy group found a total of 125 journalists were imprisoned by 24 countries for their work, an increase from last year. The CPJ found that four countries held most of the imprisoned journalists. They are China, with 32 newspeople in jail, Cuba, with 24, Eritrea with 15, and Ethiopia with 13.

Delighting The Dictators

The independent group faulted the United States for jailing a prominent reporter, Judith Miller, in 2005 for 85 days for contempt of court. "The New York Times" reporter was jailed for refusing to reveal the name of a source within the government who spoke to her in connection with a scandal over the leaking of the name of a CIA operative to the press.

Paul Steiger, who is chairman of the CPJ and managing editor of "The Wall Street Journal," warns that "repressive governments are delighted when a democracy like the United States imprisons a journalist. It makes it easier for them to justify their own restrictive policies."

The Gongadze Case

The Gongadze Case

Heorhiy Gongadze was neither the first nor the last journalist to be killed in Ukraine, but it is his death that has become synonymous with the pressure exerted on journalists by the administration of former President Leonid Kuchma. Within weeks of his death, secretly recorded tapes emerged that implicated Kuchma in Gongadze's death. Kuchma has always denied any involvement, but the twists and turns of the protracted investigation -- and its failure to produce results -- merely fueled the speculation. The demonstrations triggered by Gongadze's death galvanized opposition to the Kuchma administration.

President Viktor Yushchenko, prime minister at the time of Gongadze's death and leader of the Orange Revolution, has said that resolving the Gongadze case is a "matter of honor." The journalist's alleged killers are now on trial in Kyiv. But a trail of deaths, including one since the Orange Revolution, raise doubts about whether it will ever be certain who ordered Gongadze's murder.

For a timeline of the Gongadze case, click here.