His Excellency Nouri Kamal al-Maliki
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street NW
Washington, DC, 20036
Via facsimile: (202) 462-5066
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the Iraqi Interior Ministry's recent decision to limit journalists' access to scenes of bomb attacks. We are further alarmed by the enforcement methods employed by Iraqi police last Tuesday, when officers turned away journalists by firing shots in the air.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, announced on May 13 that journalists would be barred from the scenes of bomb attacks for one hour. He said the order was effective immediately and would be implemented nationwide.
Among the cited reasons, Khalaf said the ban would protect journalists from a second bomb attack at the same site. Agence France-Presse also quoted him as saying, "we do not want evidence to be disturbed before the arrival of detectives," and that he "does not want to give terrorists information that they achieved their goals."
Journalists in Iraq believe the ban is intended to limit their coverage to information that is filtered through the Interior Ministry, obstructing their ability to report independently.
Iraqi police enforced the order two days later, when they prevented journalists from covering the aftermath of a twin bomb attack at Baghdad's Tayaran Square. Two bombs in plastic bags exploded in two shops, killing seven civilians and wounding 17 others. Camera operators and photographers who sought to report at the scene were met by Iraqi police who fired shots in the air to disperse the press.
While we recognize security concerns at scenes of violence, the Interior Ministry's ban appears to be an attempt to limit press coverage of unwelcome news. Journalists, not governments, should determine whether a story is too dangerous to cover. The ministry's assertion that perpetrators rely on the media for confirmation of an attack is not supported by any factual evidence and, in any case, is no justification for obstructing the news reporting. Neither does the Interior Ministry offer any evidence supporting its insinuation that journalists tamper with evidence at crime scenes.
The ban imposed May 13 is not the first instance in which your government has issued decrees that hinder the work of journalists. On September 7, 2006, your government closed the Baghdad bureau of the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya for one month for allegedly fomenting "sectarian violence and war in Iraq" without providing evidence. Previous Iraqi governments have banned Al-Arabiya and competitor Al-Jazeera from working in Iraq for alleged incitement, though no evidence was cited in those cases either.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, we call on you to reverse the May 13 ban, to instruct officers not to use their firearms to enforce press rules, and to allow the press to carry out its reporting without hindrance from your government.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.