The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the recent murder of a Dilja TV correspondent and his cameraman in Iraq and called for their killers to be swiftly brought to justice.
Journalist Ahmen Abdel Samad and cameraman Safaa Ghali were shot by armed gunmen in a 4×4 vehicle who opened fire on their car in the southern city of Basra late on the night of January 10, according to information provided to IPI by the Press Freedom Association of Iraq.
Samad died at the scene after being shot in the head, while Ghali later died in hospital from multiple bullet wounds, the journalists’ employer confirmed. That day the pair had been documenting the arrest of anti-government protestors in the city for Dilja TV and had often reported on the demonstrations which have engulfed Iraq since October, Mustafa Nasser, president of the Association, told IPI.
Samad, a well-known journalist in Iraq, had posted a video interview on social media hours before his death in which it was suggested that Iran-backed militias were responsible for attacking and arresting protesters.
Nasser told IPI that the reporter had received threats in the past from both Iraqi government officials and Iranian-backed militia groups due to his coverage of their alleged roles in suppressing protests in Basra.
Local Iraqi media and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad have both said Samad and Ghali were killed in a targeted “assassination”. Other reports suggest the journalists were killed by Iran-linked paramilitary forces.
Iraqi authorities have launched an investigation but despite assurances they would release the findings, no public statements have yet been made, Nasser told IPI.
While the identity of the killers is not yet clear, the circumstances of the killing suggest the journalists were murdered in retaliation for their reporting, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said.
“From the details we have so far, it appears these tragic killings were carried out in a targeted manner and intended to silence the journalists”, Prasad said. “We call on Iraqi authorities to release the findings of their investigation as soon as possible and bring the journalists’ killers to justice.”
Dangerous time for Iraqi journalists
Over the weekend hundreds marched through the streets of Basra in a vigil to mourn the death of the two journalists.
In response to the killings, journalists in the city have also launched a campaign to demand that the identities of the gunmen be revealed and speak out against the climate of fear and threats reporters in Iraq have to face while covering protests.
Since October, IPI has documented widespread cases of journalists across Iraq being attacked, kidnapped, tear gassed, threatened and obstructed from carrying out their work. Media outlets have also been raided and forced off air by government and unidentified militia groups.
This spate of attacks has led to what local press freedom groups have called the worst climate for media since the Iraq war in 2003.