CPJ expresses support for Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

September 27, 2007

Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Via facsimile: 202-224-2417

Senator Gordon H. Smith
Via facsimile: 202-228-3937

Dear Sens. Kennedy and Smith,

I am writing to you as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists to express our concern for the safety of Iraqi journalists and others who now may find themselves imperiled for having helped U.S.-based and U.S.-backed media organizations report the news from Iraq. We would therefore like to express our support for the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act Senate Amendment #2872 to H.R. 1585 Department of Defense Authorization, which you recently co-sponsored. CPJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide and the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.

We have watched with alarm Iraq’s emergence in the last four years as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. At least 112 journalists and another 40 media support workers have been killed there since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest nation, by far, for the press throughout CPJ’s 26 years of monitoring press freedom.

Among those most targeted have been Iraqi journalists affiliated with Western media, particularly U.S.-based news groups, and those working for government-backed media. For example, 12 journalists and 10 other staff members working for the Iraq Media Network, which has received funding from the U.S. government, have been killed since 2003. About 85 percent of the journalists and media workers killed have been Iraqis, and insurgent actions are responsible for the majority of media deaths.

CPJ has been in contact with Iraqi journalists working for The New York Times, National Public Radio, ABC News, Radio Free Iraq, The Associated Press, and other prominent outlets. They have played vital roles in bringing essential news to the American public, only to be accused by neighbors of being spies and threatened by militias for “working with the Americans.” They have moved houses, slept in different locations on an almost nightly basis, and in some cases quit their work–only to face continuing threats.

For these and other members of Iraqi society targeted by insurgents and militia groups, exile is their only option for survival. Yet time and again, CPJ has seen journalists flee for their lives into precarious conditions in neighboring countries–with no opportunity to work, no prospect of a durable solution, and limited permission to stay. Others have found it so difficult to eke out a living that they have made a decision to do something you or I would likely never dream of–return home, where death sentences await them.

On June 7, 2007, gunmen killed journalist Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari. Al-Haydari had been a freelance reporter for several fledgling Iraqi media outlets, and a correspondent for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, which is a recipient of USAID funding. She had been threatened, shot, and regularly received death threats before fleeing with her family to Syria in 2006. In her final e-mail to CPJ, on March 22, al-Haydari said her name was fourth on a death list of journalists and police officers. It had been circulated throughout Mosul and posted on the door of her home. The list was issued by the local leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq. Despite this menace, the mother of four felt compelled to return to Iraq in order to work and feed her family. On her last trip there, four gunmen in Mosul pulled up in a car and fatally shot her.

To avert such tragedies in the future, we welcome the proposed creation of a P2 category to resettle Iraqis at risk for their work with media or nongovernmental organizations headquartered in the United States, or with an entity that has received U.S. funding. We see this as a positive step in increasing our country’s responsiveness to the region’s refugee crisis.

Joel Simon
Executive Director