Iraqi Police Act After Story on Media Threats

IWPR probe into intimidation of reporters results in police investigation and promises of better security.

Iraqi Police Act After Story on Media Threats

IWPR probe into intimidation of reporters results in police investigation and promises of better security.

Friday, 27 November, 2009

Police are investigating an assassination attempt on an Anbar journalist and the leader of a prominent government-backed tribal group is pledging to protect journalists following an IWPR report on threats against the media.

The report, Under Fire, Anbar Journalists Arming Themselves, featured journalists in the volatile western province who are illegally purchasing handguns to protect themselves.

The report has made an impact on authorities in Anbar, a largely Sunni Arab province.

Police say they are investigating the attempted assassination of journalist Yasin al-Fadhawi, who found a bomb outside of his house in western Anbar province on May 30.

“We are trying now find out who is behind that [incident] as police received a lot of inquiries about the Fahdawi case after his story was published in the [IWPR] report," said Anbar police major Muhammad al-Dulaimi.

Dulaimi said that Anbar’s police headquarters have ordered security forces to act on any information that could threaten journalists’ safety “and to quickly respond to any complaint by any journalist until the central government makes a clear decision on giving gun licenses to journalists”.

In the IWPR story, journalists said they have received little sympathy from the authorities and are purchasing weapons as a form of self-protection. Many said they are buying guns on the black market because it is difficult to get firearms licenses.

Reporters and editors said they believe they are targeted by local political factions for reporting on issues such as corruption.

Ibrahim Abdullah, a political consultant in the Sunni Awakening Council in Anbar, said, “After the story was published Awakening leader Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha called on all journalists to report on financial and administrative corruption here in Anbar without any fear.

“He also told them that if there are threats, he can provide them with protection so that they can continue reporting without any hesitation or fear. He believes in Anbar’s media.”

Anbar’s Awakening Council is a powerful government-backed tribal group which plays a key role in providing security in the province.

Abdullah said the Awakening’s media department tipped him off on the IWPR story. Before then, he said, “we were really unaware of what was happening”.

“We got used to seeing journalists at conferences and press gatherings, but we didn't know the kind of harassment they were being exposed to outside of conferences halls,” he said.

Muayd al-Lami, head of the Iraqi journalists' association, met ten journalists and a senior police official in Anbar last week.

Abdullah Jabir, a political writer for a top newspaper in Ramadi, said the IWPR story made “us and officials seriously aware of what was happening”.

The issue was addressed during a meeting of security force leaders in Anbar two weeks ago, he said.

Omar al-Hadithi, an editor with the state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, said Iraqi journalists will be able to use the report “to urge officials to provide protection for them”.

Iraqi announced a bill last week that would provide more protection and benefits for threatened journalists, but the Iraqi journalists’ association said the proposed legislation is poorly worded and could potentially be used by officials to hinder press freedom.

Media rights watchdog groups report that Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 190 members of the press and ancillary personnel have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. The vast majority of victims have been Iraqis. The country has been named the deadliest country for journalists for six straight years.

“Despite all that has been written on the issue, nothing substantial has been done to help journalists,” Hadithi said.

“The government and especially the parliament need to speed up legislation to protect journalists and pay proper attention to them.”

Dulaimi, the journalist from Ramadi, said he has noticed positive changes in the province since the story was published.

“Honestly, police lately have started treating us respectfully,” he said. “They also turned a blind eye to some journalists carrying guns once they were sure that they had clean histories and were vulnerable.

“This was the first time that a report from Anbar discussed our lives. We got used to conveying people's sufferings while nobody was aware of ours.”

After the story was published, Ramadi journalist Ali al-Dulaimi said, “My colleagues and I felt we are not alone in this.

“This really pushed us to write without fear, because we know that there is someone out there who cares about us.”

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