Unknown gunmen kill two Iraqi journalists

New York, January 12, 2016–Unknown gunmen shot to death two journalists working for the independent Al-Sharqiya TV station in Iraq today, according to the channel and news reports. The attack marks the first killings of journalists to be documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2016.

Correspondent Saif Talal and cameraman Hassan al-Anbaki were driving near the Diyala province capital of Baquba when unidentified gunmen intercepted their vehicle, forced them to exit, and opened fire, news reports said, citing unnamed security officials.

“This deliberate killing of two journalists is a strong reminder of the need for the Iraqi government to step up measures to protect journalists, who take great risks every day,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on Iraqi authorities to bring the killers of Saif Talal and Hassan al-Anbaki to justice as quickly as possible.”

Al-Sharqiya journalist Minas al-Suhail told Agence France-Presse that the journalists were returning from a reporting trip in the company of an Iraqi general to the Muqdadiyah area, which the night before was hit by twin bombings that killed 20 people in a café. As they passed through the village of Abu Saida, the gunmen stopped the journalists’ car, which had lagged behind the general’s convoy.

In a statement published on its website, Al-Sharqiya accused “one of the militias on the loose” of carrying out the murder. The station, whose license the Iraqi Commission on Media and Communications suspended in 2013 for using a “sectarian tone” in its coverage of Sunni protests, did not accuse any specific militia or armed group of carrying out the attack.

In its live broadcast, Al-Sharqiya reported that Talal survived an assassination attempt by unknown gunmen two years ago. The station broadcast an interview with Talal from that time in which he vowed to continue his work for the channel. In a series of tweets just hours before his death, Talal warned that strict security measures were needed against all those who operate outside the law in Diyala province and criticized extremists of all sects for failing to know the true meaning of humanity.

The Iraqi press freedom group Journalistic Freedoms Observatory said in an emailed statement that it holds the Iraqi military command in Diyala “completely responsible” for the killing of the journalists. The Iraqi Journalists Syndicate called on officials to take “all possible efforts” to uncover the perpetrators.

Iraqi security forces bolstered by Shia militias declared victory over Islamic State fighters in Diyala province early last year, but violence has spiked repeatedly since that declaration, according to news reports. Meanwhile, human rights organizations and news organizations have documented likely war crimes and atrocities committed by Shiite militias supporting the Iraqi government, including in Diyala province.