Collaboration increases the safety of Iraqi journalists

On 26 December 2016, Iraqi female journalist Afrah Shawqi was kidnapped by armed men from her house, shortly after she published an article about armed groups in Iraq. For Free Press Unlimited this was the immediate reason to bring together international and Iraqi civil organisations and journalists. Together they want to expose the ongoing crimes against journalists in Iraq.

Shawqi is living proof of the power of solidarity. She was freed after 9 days, specifically thanks to ‘support from the population, solidarity and political pressure,’ says the journalist. Often, it doesn’t end this well. In the few months between May and November 2017, 3 journalists were murdered, and another 3 reporters attacked. Prosecution of the perpetrators is a rare thing in this country. In the past 8 years, Iraq has continuously been at number 1 or 2 on the Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Iraqi government takes the first steps against violence

To encourage the Iraqi government to take action against this impunity, media, civil society organisations and politics must form a united front. That is not easy in the extremely divided Iraqi society. Still, Free Press Unlimited and UNESCO booked an important lobby success in 2017. As a member of the United Nations, Iraq is obliged to make known how many journalists have been murdered in the country every year. And what judicial action has been taken to find the perpetrators. Until 2017, Iraq had in fact never complied.

On 3 May, Free Press Unlimited, UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalism organised an event in Bagdad on safety and impunity. Representatives from the government, civil society organisations and media discussed how together they could break the silence about crimes against journalists. Millions of Iraqis were able to follow the event live via 8 TV channels. Sensitive to so much media attention, in that same month, the Ministry of the Interior published statistics on the number of journalists murdered. It was finally brought to light that since 2006 – according to the ministry – at least 125 journalists were murdered in Iraq.

Solidarity is crucial

This report is a crucial step in the fight against impunity: if the murders of journalists are brushed under the carpet, the murderers will never be punished. Free Press Unlimited has now been asked, together with civil society organisations, to advise the government: what is the best way for them to deal with individual cases of crimes against journalists? And what will it take to increase the safety of journalists? A difficult task, because many organisations are strongly divided. So, we will also continue to organise more media solidarity and joint action against impunity. That solidarity is a prerequisite for the effective protection of journalists.

Start project: 2017
Donor: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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