Iraq - Hundreds of journalists forced into exile in five years since start of US-led invasion of Iraq



    MONTREAL, March 19 /CNW Telbec/ - The first-ever detailed report on the
plight of Iraqi journalists who have been forced into exile was released by
Reporters Without Borders today, the eve of the fifth anniversary of the start
of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Most of these journalists fled to Jordan or
Syria after receiving threats or surviving murder attempts. Hundreds are
trying to live a normal life again in Amman or Damascus, or in some cases in
cities in Europe and North America.
    "These journalists are safe again after escaping the hell of Iraq, the
world's deadliest country for the media," the press freedom organisation said.
"But exile does not mean the end of their problems. Most of the journalists
who flee Iraq do not find work. Many have to give up journalism. All or nearly
all of them are living from hand to mouth, alone or with their families.
    "Syria and Jordan are overwhelmed by the influx of Iraqi refugees. The
countries of Europe, North America and the rest of the Arab world should also
accept Iraqi refugees and should urgently adopt policies to make this
possible. France, in particular, should make an effort. A total of 9,300
Iraqis filed asylum requests in Sweden in the first quarter of 2007, after
getting visas to go there. Only 93 did so in France in the same period."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "Despite all our letters to the relevant
ministry, four Iraqi journalists were refused French visas last October."
    Iraqi journalists are targeted by Sunni and Shiite militias, by Al-Qaeda,
by the authorities, including the police, and by the US-led coalition forces.
A total of 210 journalists and media assistants have been killed since March
2003. The Iraqi interior ministry has initiated investigations into their
deaths but only an insignificant number of these investigations have resulted
in arrests.
    Journalists are also the targets of abduction by groups that are
politically motivated or are just seeking ransom payments. Reporters Without
Borders has recorded 87 abductions of journalists since the start of the war.
The fate of 15 kidnapping victims, one of them British, is not known.
Fred Nérac, a French cameraman working for the British television news company
ITN, is still missing. Caught in crossfire between US and Iraqi forces on the
second day of the invasion, his body has never been found.
    Reporters Without Borders met with many exiled Iraqi journalists for this
report. One was a correspondent for the Spanish news agency EFE who decided to
leave immediately with his wife and two children after seeing his name among a
list of names on a poster on the wall of his local bakery, in an Al
Qaeda-controlled neighbourhood of Baghdad.
    It also met with a veteran cameraman who did not want to be identified
for fear of reprisals. "I learned in May 2007 that the Mahdi Army was asking
questions about me in my neighbourhood," he said, referring to a Shiite
militia led by Moqtada al Sadr that is involved in ethnic cleansing in mixed
neighbourhoods in Baghdad. "I am a journalist. I worked for a US TV station
and I am Sunni. So I was a target for them. I decided at once to leave the
city. I went to Syria."
    Another journalist, Hussein Al Maadidi, left after incurring the wrath of
the Iraqi authorities and US military by reporting that US marines
deliberately shot women and children in reprisal for the killing of a marine
in Haditha, in the western province of Al Anbar, in November 2005. "The police
searched my home 23 times," he said. "I never went home during the last two
years. I even worked under another name to avoid police reprisals. My articles
about what is really happening in the west of the country upset them." He left
Iraq in October 2007.
    The report says: "Iraqi journalists are like the rest of their
compatriots. Many have gone into exile because they have been targeted,
threatened and kidnapped, or because they are tired of a security situation
that is a still fraught. Jordan is the preferred exile destination for Iraqi
journalists. It is still the place where they can best get by. Syria is a
tougher place for the refugees. The authorities in both Amman and Damascus
allow Iraqi journalists to work freely as long as they limit themselves to
covering Iraqi affairs and do not criticise the host countries."
    Only a very small proportion of the exiled Iraqi journalists in Europe
manage to keep working in journalism. Ahmed Al-Allef was a fixer for many
foreign news media including the Paris-based daily Le Monde. Now in France, he
wants to go back to studying journalism with the long-term goal of working for
a French news organisation.
    He says he is aware of all the difficulties he is facing. "I have lost my
home, my car and my savings," he told Reporters Without Borders. "My family is
spread over the four corners of the globe. Nonetheless, I want to start a new
life and I am doing my best to achieve it by learning French." Supported by
leading European news media, he managed to obtain refugee status in seven
months.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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