Sunday, January 26, 2014

Iraq: One of the Deadliest Nations for Journalists

By Dr Rabin Man Shakya

Iraq was and still is a deeply polarized country in the Arab World. During 1980s as a journalism student at the Belorussian State University in Minsk, I was familiar with so many Iraqis: journalism as well as non-journalism students. Iraqi students came to the former Soviet Union to acquire higher education in different specializations through various channels:(1) through Saddam Hussein's Baath Party government, (2) through the Iraqi Communist Party and (3) through Kurdish Iraqi organizations.
The political polarization among the Iraqi students was so palpable even during that period in the former Soviet Union, so much so that, the students sent from the government side did not speak to the students sent to the USSR through the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) or through Kurdish Iraqi organizations.
More often than not, during interactions, Iraqi students coming from ICP line or Kurdish Iraqi organizations would complain that there is no press freedom and freedom of expression in Saddam's Iraq and that they were constantly persecuted by the authorities, while pro-Saddam students bragged about stability, prosperity, law and order in Iraq at that time.
However, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is politically fragile, not a safe place for journalists to work. From 1995 to 2004, the number of media personnel killed in Iraq was 36, making Iraq the most vulnerable and deadliest country for journalists during that period.
It is to be remembered that in October 2004 a car bomb had exploded in Baghdad bureau of Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network based in Dubai. The blast had taken lives of five employees and critically hurt 14 others, five of them TV reporters. The crisis had raised a terrifying specter for Iraqi journalists who were already vulnerable to assaults from both Sunni and Shiite warlords.
Incidents of fatal assaults against the Iraqi media outlets and journalists have been repeatedly reported in different newspapers and TV networks in recent times. According to the recent media reports, journalists have not escaped the recent surge of violence in Iraq and several have been shot dead at close range.
Human Rights Watch recently said:"Journalists in Iraq face a double threat, from armed gangs gunning them down and prosecutors charging them, all because of what they write. The recent spate of assassinations of journalists, who risk being prosecuted by the very authorities that are supposed to protect them."
By the end of 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 93 unresolved murders of journalists in Iraq since 2003, not counting the journalists killed in the crossfire of combat.
The Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence is plunging Iraq into an abyss of chaos and uncertainties and journalists are not untouched by the consequences of the sectarian conflicts. Judging by the media reports, prospects for any breakthrough in violent Sunni-Shiite ethnic polarization remain very dismal.

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