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Iraqi Journalists Press Charges Against Riot Police

Iraq -- Riot police disperse protesters during a demonstration in front of the provincial council building in Basra, 04Mar2011
Iraq -- Riot police disperse protesters during a demonstration in front of the provincial council building in Basra, 04Mar2011
The Iraqi journalists' syndicate has taken
the unprecedented step of filing charges against an Interior Ministry security
unit and its commander for an assault on journalists who were covering a
protest, RFE's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Nadhum al-Rubaie, who is a member of the administrative board of the Iraqi
journalists' syndicate, told RFI earlier this week that its lawyers have
filed criminal and civil actions against the Interior Ministry's antiriot unit
for allegedly attacking five reporters who were covering a demonstration in the
southern province of Basra last Friday, March 4.

Rubaie said that attacks on journalists should not be tolerated as they
carry out a mission directly linked to the public interest. He added that the
matter has been raised with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
pains us to see messengers of truth assaulted...

Hayder al-Mansuri, chairman of the syndicate's Basra chapter, told RFI that
when he tried to rescue his five colleagues by displaying his press card to a
group of policemen they responded by beating him with their truncheons.

Mansuri said the incident demonstrates the precarious state of press freedom
in a province where Iraq's second city and only seaport is located.

Journalists' syndicate member Hayder al-Saad told RFI that Basra's journalists
have unanimously agreed to boycott the provincial police force, and will stage
a sit-in if the commander of the antiriot unit is not disciplined and members
of his unit who attacked the reporters are not penalized.

The local government, as well as most political parties in the province, has
strongly condemned the attack.

Acting Basra governor Nazar al-Jabiri told RFI on Tuesday that "it
pains us to see messengers of truth assaulted." He stressed that the incident
was "an isolated case involving individuals."

Jabiri said the matter has been taken up at the highest level and an
investigation is under way.

Speaking to RFI, Brigadier General Ahmad Muhammad, who heads the team of
investigators, vowed to bring those responsible to account. He said the injured
reporters have been visited in hospital and statements taken from them for use
in the inquiry.

Basra saw several Iraqi journalists gunned down during the worst years of
violence, including two Iraqi journalists working for "The New York Times" who
were killed in 2005. Now that security has improved, journalists are harassed
primarily by government agencies.

compiled by RFE's Radio Free Iraq and O wire.