Since the beginning of the war in Iraq in March 2003, more
journalists have been killed in that country than anywhere else in the
world. The situation faced by journalists attempting to cover the
events in that country highlight the need for greater international
efforts to protect journalists in conflict situations.
Journalists fulfil a special role in conflict situations, providing
details of incidents that parties to the conflict would sometimes
prefer remained unknown by the general public.
In the first year of the conflict, journalists were primarily killed by
US or Iraqi forces, usually reported as having been caught in the
crossfire or accidentally shot, though journalists' organisations have
charged that some of the attacks looked like deliberate targeting. The
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said on 8 March 2006, the
third anniversary of the US attack on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, that
more than 100 journalists and media staff have lost their lives.
“...In many of these cases we still do not have concrete answers to
hard questions about who is responsible and what happened,” said Aidan
White, IFJ General Secretary.
In a recent case, the IFJ reports that Mahmoud Za'al, 35, a cameraman
and reporter for the Iraqi television station Baghdad TV was shot on 24
January 2006 in Ramadi, while working on a social documentary.
According to local reports, Mahmoud Za’al was allegedly shot in a
cross-fire between US forces and insurgents.
Since 2004, however, both local and international journalists have
increasingly been targeted by armed groups as part of their campaigns.
Many local journalists are targeted because they work for foreign media
and are accused of collaboration, while foreign journalists have been
kidnapped and murdered in an attempt to put pressure on the foreign
troops in the country.
Female journalists are among those targeted by armed groups. In
February, a well-known correspondent for Al-Arabiya television and two
members of her crew in Iraq were kidnapped and killed. Police found the
bodies of reporter Atwar Bahjat, her cameraman Adnan Khairallah and
soundman Khaled Mohsen on the outskirts of Samarra.
The IFJ has been campaigning for a similar level of protection as
granted to humanitarian workers and UN staff in August 2003 to be
extended to journalists in conflict situations. The organisation
presented text for a suggested resolution of the Security Council to UN
Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at the World Electronic Media Forum
during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisian,
16 November, 2005.
Amnesty International (AI) agrees that international measures must be
put in place to protect journalists in conflict. AI calls on the
incoming members of the Security Council to adopt measures that seek to
prevent these attacks and hold those who carry them out accountable for
However, it is not just in conflict situations that journalists need
protection. Across the world, in a range of different situations,
journalists are attacked, imprisoned and forced into self-censorship by
repressive governments. The common element in all of these is the
unwillingness of some governments to allow alternative voices to emerge
and, in many cases, a fear that journalists will expose abuses they
have tried to keep quiet.
In Uzbekistan, journalists who have tried to publicise the killings in
Andizhan last May have been threatened, assaulted, detained and
forcibly confined to their homes. The "war on terror" is used as a
pretext for tightening restrictions on freedom of expression. The
situation has become so bad that, following the closure of several
independent foreign media outlets, the BBC closed its Uzbekistan office
last October due to the increased harassment of its staff by the
The "war on terror" has also been invoked in Pakistan to restrict
journalists. Journalists have been denied permission to cover events in
the tribal areas of the country where the army is engaged in operations
against those linked to al-Qa'ida and the Taleban. Across the country,
journalists covering the "war on terror" have been harassed,
arbitrarily arrested. Some have "disappeared" for some length of time.
In one such case, journalist Hayatullah Khan was abducted by armed men
on his way to cover a protest rally in Mirali Bazaar, North Waziristan,
against a missile attack four days earlier. He is now thought to be
detained, possibly having been handed over to US agencies, but his
detention has not been acknowledged and his whereabouts remain unknown.
In Colombia, the continuing armed conflict, which the government
sometimes describes as a "fight against terrorism", has, in some cases
been used as a pretext to intimidate journalists who, along with trade
unionists and social activists, are targeted by both army-backed
paramilitaries and the armed opposition groups.
Members of the security forces and government officials have sought to
stigmatize some journalists who expose human rights violations by
associating them with the armed opposition groups, thus placing them at
risk of attack by paramilitary forces. They are under particular threat
in the run-up to the Presidential elections on 28 May.
In Lebanon, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq
al-Hariri in February 2005 and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian
troops, several prominent journalists who had spoken out against Syrian
practices were killed or seriously injured by bombs placed under their
cars. Samir Qasir and Gibran Tueni MP, a senior journalist with and the
editor of the daily al-Nahar respectively, were killed in June and
December 2005. May Chidiac, a presenter with LBC television, lost an
arm and a leg in a bomb attack against her in September 2005.
Journalists in Kenya have also found themselves targeted in a pattern
of increased intimidation and harassment by the government. In March
this year, the Information and Communications Minister Mutahi Kagwe and
Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua warned the media of stern government
action if the persisted in what was described as "misreporting and
In one of a series of incidents, two groups of hooded armed people with
gas masks staged simultaneous raids early on 2 March on the editorial
offices of the Kenya Television Network and the Standard Group's
printing press in Nairobi. They disabled broadcasting equipment, burnt
thousands of copies of newspapers and removed computer equipment.
States have a duty to protect journalists and not to persecute them in
an effort to control the free flow of information. A free media is not
only beneficial, but necessary in a free society. By exposing human
rights abuses and giving voice to marginalised parts of the community,
the media can at its best encourage the proper application of justice
and stimulate debates that can defuse situations that might otherwise
lead to conflict. When faced with unjust restrictions and the threat of
attack, self-censorship in the media can have the opposite effect,
aiding the covering up of abuses and fostering frustration in
International recognition of the importance of journalists and the need
for them to work free from unjust restrictions and the threat of
violence will help to put pressure on those states who seek to control
the media. Journalism matters and it is time for those who recognise
the importance of a free media to try to change the minds of those who
Other countries: Rwanda
Restrictions on the freedom of the press remain in force, belying the
government's claims that it is building an open society. Journalists
who voice concern or criticize the state authorities are intimidated
into silence or forced into self-censorship. The climate of impunity is
perpetuated by the lack of substantive measures to bring to justice
perpetrators of past human rights violations against journalists,
including physical attacks, unlawful detention, intimidation and
The government retains complete control over all media outlets and
private ownership of press, radio, television and other means of
communication is prohibited by law. Independent journalists face
intimidation, harassment and imprisonment for their work. There are
currently 72 prisoners of conscience on the island, 14 of whom are
Several journalists engaged in defending human rights have had their
fingers or hands deliberately damaged so they can no longer hold a pen.
The attacks form part of a situation in which hundreds of human rights
defenders have received death threats and been physically attacked.
Successive governments have consistently failed to protect individuals
at risk, investigate the abuses committed against them and bring the
perpetrators to justice.
Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly
persist. A Bill introduced by President Mubarak in February 2004 that
would abolish imprisonment for publishing offences has not been made
law. In the meantime, journalists continued to be threatened, beaten,
fined for libel or imprisoned because of their work. Crews and
journalists of international TV channels were also stopped and detained
for hours in the run-up to the May 2005 referendum on multi-candidate
presidential elections in an apparent attempt to prevent them from
reporting on demonstrations or gatherings related to the referendum.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which prohibits "public
denigration of Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly
of Turkey", violates the right to freedom of expression and is
frequently used to prosecute journalists and others peacefully
expressing their dissenting opinion. Amnesty International has been
campaigning for the abolition of Article 301 in its entirety.