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Media Matters: April 7, 2007

Radio Free Iraq Reporter Found Dead In Baghdad

Khamail Muhsin Khalaf (undated)

BAGHDAD, April 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Khamail Muhsin Khalaf, a correspondent in Iraq with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, has been found dead today in Baghdad.

Khamail had been missing for the past two days amid fears she had been kidnapped.

According to official sources, she was shot in the head and there were wounds on her body.

Khamail, who began working for Radio Free Iraq in 2004, had received death threats in the past. She leaves behind three daughters.

"The tragic death of Khamail [Muhsin] Khalaf reminds us that each day Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondents risk their lives in pursuit of truth," Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. foreign broadcasting, said today. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends, knowing that she paid the ultimate price for fulfilling her responsibility to the people of Iraq."

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin also praised Khamail's professionalism and dedication.

"Mrs. Khamail was a courageous journalist who wanted the best for her country and believed that the people of Iraq deserve a peaceful and prosperous future. She died for that cause," Gedmin said.

Radio Free Iraq broadcasts to Iraq from its headquarters in Prague at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Slain RFI Journalist Focused On 'The Lives Of Simple People'

Khamail Muhsin Khalaf (file photo)

April 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi journalist risk their lives daily to report the news. On April 5, Radio Free Iraq reporter Khamail Muhsin Khalaf was found dead near her home in central Baghdad. She had been missing for two days and was found shot in the head. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel spoke with Radio Free Iraq bureau chief Nabil al-Haidari.

RFE/RL: Could you please tell us what we know about the death of Khamail?

Nabil Al-Haidari: Khamail, our colleague, was kidnapped on Tuesday afternoon [April 3] on her way from the bureau to her house. And in the early morning on Thursday [April 5] her body was found near to the area of her residence in Al-Karkh part of [central] Baghdad.

RFE/RL: How should we interpret what happened?

Al-Haidari: It is a message from the insurgent groups who don't like life, who don't like truth. And by the way, Khamail's work always gave attention to reports talking about the lives of simple people, for Iraqi families, for the children, for the women. She never worked in the political area; she liked social stories. In all her reports, when I relistened to [some of] them yesterday and the day before, I felt she was trying to be the real and true voice of simple Iraqi people.

RFE/RL: You say that Khamail had received death threats, both as a journalist and an individual. What was the reason for some of these threats?

Al-Haidari: Khamail received [some death threats] because she lived in an area where there is a lot of activity by extremists who are trying to displace some people from their district on a sectarian basis. And Khamail got many threats at her residence. And for that reason she transferred two of her daughters, children, to Syria from Iraq and stayed behind alone to keep fighting for life and to get her salary to feed herself and to feed her children abroad.

RFE/RL: Khamail was a very well-known journalist in Iraq, a professional with decades of experience. Could you tell us a little bit about why she was so well known?

Al-Haidari: She got a baccalaureate in English literature at the end of the 1970s and she worked from the end of the '70s in Iraqi television, it was at that time the only channel, the national Iraqi television, from that time until around 2003 or 2002, before the change of regime in 2003. She was well-known as an announcer, television star, all the people knew her that way because she was a television star for some 26 or 27 years. And after the war, after a few months, she joined us.

RFE/RL: The loss of your colleague is another blow to journalists in Iraq at time when those in the media remain under constant threat. How do you and other Iraqi journalists respond?

Al-Haidari: It is a message with two meanings. One is to keep strong in face of this life and its difficulties and continue the jobs and messages we want in our lives, especially the media message, the message of truth that all of my colleagues share as a value in their life, and to work with a radio that is respected by the Iraqi people these days, Radio Free Iraq.

Kazakhstan: Rude Culture Minister Ignores Pressure To Resign

By Bruce Pannier

Ermukhammet Ertisbaev, the Kazakh minister of information and culture (file photo)

March 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Controversy surrounds Kazakh Information and Culture Minister Yermukhammet Ertisbaev over his ejection of a television station from a press conference and his subsequent rude and defiant behavior in defending the action and attacking other media outlets.

Several groups in Kazakhstan are calling for Ertisbaev's dismissal. The minister, however, is a close friend of the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Ertisbaev is rejecting calls for his removal.

Kazakhstan does not have the most media-friendly environment, as opposition journalists and independent media outlets have learned where the boundaries are in their reporting.

"This is a shameful incident. On the one hand we have heard such things about [Ertisbaev] already, now you see we have real facts."

Likewise, state officials have often treated the media with something resembling contempt.

But as Ertisbaev is finding out, there are boundaries beyond which even state officials cannot cross when it comes to the media.

Earlier this month Ertisbaev demanded that journalists from the independent television station Era leave a press conference. The incident was filmed and shown by Era TV and television station Channel 31.

Dos Koshim, the head of the NGO Destiny of the Nation, was one of those who saw Ertisbaev on television.

"We were witness to very shameful behavior by Kazakhstan's minister of information and culture," he said. "I would call it the highest peak of uncultured behavior to speak like that, to behave like a regional boss of the [Soviet] past, saying I will give you this and take that from you."

The incident certainly provoked a response that included criticism from Seitkazy Mataev, the head of Kazakhstan's Union of Journalists, an organization that usually does not criticize state officials.

"This is a shameful incident," Mataev said. "On the one hand we have heard such things about him (Ertisbaev) already, now you see we have real facts. Channel 31 and the Era channel aired everything. I spoke to Mirbulat Kunbaev [the chairman of Era TV]. He is going to sue Ertisbaev. We, the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan and the Adil Soz foundation, will help him [with his case]."

Adil Soz monitors media freedom not only in Kazakhstan but Central Asia in general. The organization's chairwoman, Tamara Kaleeva, said Kazakhstan's laws forbid denying selected media outlets the opportunity to report on news events.

"It is a violation of the law on the media," he said. "Equal access has nothing to do with ownership."

The Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan and Adil Soz cowrote an open letter to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev demanding that Ertisbaev be dismissed from his post.

Ertisbaev is unapologetic about the entire incident. Asked recently by RFE/RL if he intended to resign, Ertisbaev answered: "I do not intend to resign. I will when I want to," he said.

Ertisbaev was asked if he had ordered the Era crew to leave the news conference.

"Okay, let's say I prohibited it [from filming]," he said. "So what?"

Ertisbaev said he would sue Era TV and maybe also the independent weekly Russian-language newspaper "Vremya," which also reported on Ertisbaev's attitude toward independent journalists. "Vremya," in turn, plans to sue Ertisbaev.

Ertisbaev may have aggravated the situation when he appeared on television after the incident.

According to the him, an editor at "Vremya" called him and, in front of the cameras, Ertisbaev said: "I told him not to call me anymore. He asked me 'why?' and I said because you are repulsive," Ertisbaev said.

Ertisbaev made a few other comments about "Vremya" that some people, like "Vremya" editor Marat Asipov, consider derogatory.

"He uttered an offensive statement addressed to the editorial staff and the chief editor of the newspaper," he said.

In Asipov's opinion, these comments are not what is expected from a government official.

"This is not an acceptable statement from our point of view, unacceptable for a minister but in general unacceptable for anyone to speak like that," Asipov said.

Normally it could be expected that Ertisbaev would at least be censured for arousing such controversy. But Ertisbaev is a friend of President Nazarbaev and has in the past lashed out at Nazarbaev's opponents while the Kazakh president remained silent.

This tendency has earned Ertisbaev the nickname among some people of being "Nazarbaev's nightingale."

Vadim Boreiko, another editor at "Vremya," said whether he is a friend of not, Ertisbaev's conduct deserves administrative punishment.

"When a nightingale gets bird flu you have to save yourself from it, irregardless of who owns it or what your political positions are," Boreiko said.

The open letter authored by the Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan and Adil Soz has made its way to the country's new prime minister, Karim Masimov.

Only in office since January, Masimov is taking the matter seriously and earlier this week told Ertisbaev: "I order you to in two days prepare an official report addressed to me and to answer all the questions I am being asked [by others about you]."

On March 15, Union of Journalists of Kazakhstan chief Mataev asked Masimov on television whether Ertisbaev has responded to his request. The prime minister said that he had not.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of the Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)