New York, April 7, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about several recent incidents in which journalists have been briefly held by insurgents in Iraq.
These incidents come amid escalating clashes between Coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents.
According to The Associated Press (AP), one of its photographers and his driver were detained today in the southern city of Kut by militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The gunmen accused the two men of being “traitors” and bound and blindfolded them, the AP reported. They were later released after another Shiite cleric vouched for the two men. The AP also reported that its stringer in Karbala, also in southern Iraq, was told yesterday by al-Sadr supporters in the city to leave and has not been allowed to return.
Meanwhile, a New York Times spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis said that a reporter, photographer, driver, and translator all working for the Times were abducted at gunpoint today outside of Baghdad. They were held for several hours and released unharmed. CPJ is seeking further details.
In today’s edition of The New York Times, Times correspondent John Burns reported on an April 6 incident in which he and several Times employees from the paper’s Baghdad bureau were detained in Kufa, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the capital, by al-Sadr’s forces. Burns wrote that the staff was suspected “of being Special Forces operatives or intelligence agents for the United States, Spain or Israel.” He said the group was held for eight hours and then released.
According to CPJ research, Iraq is currently the most dangerous place in the world to work as a journalist. Reporters face daily security risks, including shootings and bombings from insurgents, carjackings and holdups by criminals, and gunfire from coalition troops.
While journalists are generally not being targeted because of their journalism, Westerners—among them members of the press—remain under threat of attack. Iraqi nationals who work for foreign organizations, including the media, have also been threatened and in some instances killed in apparent reprisal for their associations with these organizations.