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Iraq - World Report 2009

158 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 438 320 sq. km.
-  Population: 24,001,816
-  Languages: Arabic and Kurdish
-  Head of state: Jalal Talabani since 2005

Over the past 18 months, Reporters Without Borders has recorded a reduction in violence against journalists. However, the death of two reporters in a suicide attack in March 2009 shows that the dangers still persist.

As well as the violent crime to which journalists are exposed in Iraq, American forces have kept the local press under considerable pressure and have, since 1st September 2008, held Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, despite a ruling by Iraq’s central criminal court on 30 November 2008 acquitting him and ordering his release.

After years of impunity, the Iraqi authorities in 2008 set up a special police unit responsible for investigating murders of journalists and even providing armed protection for journalists requesting it. They also established a telephone hotline for journalists at risk. Moreover, a new press law abolishing prison sentences for press offences was adopted in September 2008, replacing a 1969 law.

Elsewhere, beyond the violence, Iraqi journalists are having to deal with new working restrictions imposed on them by the authorities, particularly in Kurdistan which was previously exempt. Local media have been coming under growing pressure to peddle a positive image of the country to the detriment of their independence.

In another instance, the National Media and Communications Commission of Iraq released a “Code for Media during Elections”, which journalists were forced to sign in order to obtain accreditation during 31 January 2009 provincial elections, although it constitutes a threat to the freedom to work of Iraqi and foreign journalists. Under the code, it is an offence to make any criticism of a candidate’s programme.

Freedom of expression is far from attained in Iraq which continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. It is not certain that the progressive withdrawal of American troops that has been announced will mean an improvement in this situation.

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