World News

Iraqi police mobilise team to protect reporters

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities have unveiled a new hotline to protect journalists, but reporters in the world’s most dangerous country still fear for their lives.

Police say they have thwarted two attempts to assassinate journalists in two weeks since setting up the hotline with a journalists’ rights group.

One of the intended victims was Saad Qusay, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Arabic-language TV channel al-Hurra in the southern city of Basra. The Interior Ministry says it captured a militia member who had threatened to kill him.

Qusay praised the operation, which has also provided him with a round-the-clock police guard near his home, but said he still lives in fear.

“I cannot hide the fact that I feel afraid. I feel afraid for my family because they arrested one person but the cell is still free,” Qusay, 25, told Reuters by telephone.

“The security forces in Basra advise me to leave Iraq for the time being, for my safety.”

The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists says about 135 journalists and 53 other media staff have been killed in Iraq since 2003, making it the deadliest conflict for reporters in recent decades. Other tallies are even higher.

The new hotline was set up with the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, a non-governmental Iraqi organisation that defends reporters. The hotline numbers are posted on the JFO website

Journalists who feel threatened can phone the JFO, which will quickly pass their case on to a special police squad set up to protect them.

The organisation’s head Ziad al-Ajili said the new initiative was a sign the authorities are at last recognising the importance of protecting the media.

“This is a great success on all levels, an agreement which took place among press organisations to protect journalists,” al-Ajili told a news conference this week unveiling the project.

In just two weeks, the hotline helped thwart the killing of Qusay and another television reporter in Basra, said Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim al-Khalaf.

Suspects have also been captured in the northern city of Mosul accused of kidnapping and killing three TV journalists for the al-Sharqiya channel, he said.

Khalaf said that the Interior Ministry has records of 276 journalists killed since 2003.