Hivos concerned about killings of journalists in Iraq

December 8, 2013

Hivos is very concerned about the safety of local journalists in the Iraqi province of Ninewa. We have received alarming messages from our partner, the Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association (IJRDA), and other organisations, about the increasing number of journalists shot by gunmen since early October 2013. One recent victim was Aadel Mohsen Husain, journalist and IJRDA activist in Tal Afar district. Although police are investigating the killings, no arrests or charges have been made in connection with the attacks.

On 3 December 2013, unknown gunmen assassinated writer and journalist Aadel Mohsen Husain in the provincial capital Mosul. He worked for several Iraqi newspapers and was active in the Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association since 2003.

IJRDA has urged the local government and security forces in Ninewa province to ensure a safe environment for journalists and to open official investigations into the recent killings and threats against journalists. Their call went unheeded.

The killings are part of a pattern of violence against journalists and repression of critical voices in Iraq. Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch report that Iraqi journalists are threatened, especially when they cover stories about corruption, armed violence or other politically sensitive topics, and are aggressively prosecuted by the government for allegedly defaming public figures. The Centre for the Legal Protection of Journalists claims to represent more than ten journalists facing criminal charges at the moment.

The security situation in Iraq is unpredictable and is expected to deteriorate during the election campaign in March-April 2014. In addition, there has been a trend toward increasing authoritarianism and silencing of critical voices in federal Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Baghdad, some 50 journalists in Mosul have been killed in violence since 2003. Hivos partner IJRDA calls Mosul and Nineveh the most dangerous place for journalists in Iraq.

Hivos has supported the Iraqi Journalists’ Rights Defense Association (IJRDA) since 2012. The Association is based in Baghdad, with branches in twelve of Iraq’s eighteen provinces, and counts some six hundred members throughout the country. IJRDA provides legal and technical support for journalists, documents violations against journalists and writers in Iraq, and issues regular reports on the status of media and civil society watchdogs for national and international audiences.

With the support of Hivos, the Association organised a series of training for around 150 Iraqi journalists. The courses focused on human rights conventions, human rights monitoring and documentation, corruption and how to address it, as well as how to conduct investigative journalism.

Hivos considers independent journalism of utmost importance for democratic development to take root. Marcel van der Heijden, programme manager of the CSO Capacity Development Programme Iraq, argues that “the recent violence against journalists in Mosul clearly shows why it is so important that we support IJRDA. We both have the same goal: a society in Iraq where journalists are able to do their job safely, critically and effectively.”

Recent killings of journalists in Mosul:

  • 3 December 2013: Gunmen assassinated Aadel Mohsen Husain, journalist and activist for IJRDA.
  • 24 November 2013: Gunmen killed Alaa Edward Butros, a journalist for Al-Rashid TV news service.
  • 24 October 2013: Gunmen killed Bashar Abdul-Qader Najm Al-Nouaymi, a cameraman working with Al-Mosuliya news agency.
  • 8 October 2013: Gunmen killed Saad Zaghloul, a spokesman for the Ninewa governor, Atheel Nujaifi, after another spokesperson for this governor, Qahtan Sami, had been killed in July. Both had previously worked as journalists.
  • 5 October 2013: Gunmen killed Mohammed Karim Al-Badrani, a TV reporter working with Al-Sharqiya news service, and his cameraman, Mohammed al-Ghanem Al-Obeidi.

Attempted killing and death threats:

  • 27 October 2013: Falah Hassan, correspondent  for Al-Masar TV, was badly wounded when he was shot by gunmen.
  • Houssam Mahmoud Farj and Salim Mohamed received death threats after satellite TV station Al-Etejah broadcast their documentary at the end of October called “The reign of chaos,” in which they criticised corruption in state institutions. Farj has already been threatened for his reporting in the past.