UK urges accountability over spate of assassinations of Iraqi journalists

The British ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hickey, condemned the killing of Nazar Dhanoun, director general of Al Rashid TV

Iraqi mourners carry the coffin of Yussef Sattar, a local journalist and activist who was reportedly killed earlier this week while covering anti-government demonstrations, during his funeral in the capital Baghdad on January 21, 2020.  / AFP / Ayman HENNA
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Killings, kidnappings and intimidation of journalists in Iraq “cannot continue,” the UK’s ambassador to Iraq said on Wednesday.

Stephen Hickey called for accountability for violence as Nazar Dhanoun, director general of Al Rasheed TV, was shot dead by unknown assailants in Baghdad on Tuesday.

He condemned the killing and called for those responsible to be held liable for their actions.

“I was shocked to hear about the killing Nazar Dhanoun. Freedom of expression is a basic human right, and it is a right that the nation should be proud of,” Mr Hickey said on Twitter.

Mr Dhanoun’s assassination has drawn widespread condemnation of the government’s lack of action to provide protection for journalists and members of the media whose reporting asks questions of the Iraqi elite and its backers.

“These assassinations, kidnappings and intimidation cannot continue, and those responsible must be held accountable,” Mr Hickey said.

Iraq has been experiencing a political and social crisis as over four months of protests have challenged the country’s political elite.

Television and radio stations have come under attack, political groups have been pressuring reporters and threats and intimidation have become part of reporters’ daily lives.

Four journalists have been killed since the start of the demonstrations in early October and dozens have been targeted and silenced for their coverage, press freedom and human rights groups say.

Among them were Ahmad Abdelsamad, 39, a correspondent for local television station Dijla, and his colleague, cameraman Safaa Ghali. They were shot dead by unknown gunmen for covering the government’s crackdown on demonstrators in the southern city of Basra.

The European Union ambassador to Iraq, Martin Huth, reiterated Mr Stephen’s call.

“Fully agree. From vandalism and intimidation to murder: Safaa Ghali, Ahmad Abdul Samad (Dijlah TV), Nizar Dhanoun (Al-Rasheed TV),” Mr Huth said.

Iraq is ranked near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ media freedom index.

It owes its current ranking of 156 out of 180 countries to routine attacks, arbitrary detentions and intimidation of journalists by militias and pro-government groups, RSF said.