More journalists were killed during the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq than in any war in history.
Reuters news agency’s Baghdad bureau chief has left Iraq after receiving death threats online and on television for a recent report detailing lynching and looting in the city of Tikrit.
The threats against Ned Parker began on an Iraqi Facebook page run by a group that calls itself the Hammer, which the news agency’s sources believes to be linked to armed Shia groups.
The April 5 post and subsequent comments demanded he be expelled from Iraq. One commenter said that killing Parker was “the best way to silence him, not kick him out”.
Three days later, a news show on Al-Ahd, a television station owned by the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, broadcast a segment on Parker that included a photo of him.
The segment accused the reporter and Reuters of denigrating Iraq and its government-backed forces, and called on viewers to demand Parker be expelled.
The pressure followed an April 3 report by Parker and two colleagues detailing human-rights abuses in Tikrit after government forces and Iranian-backed fighters liberated the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Accuracy and fairness
Two Reuters journalists in Tikrit witnessed the lynching of an ISIL fighter by Iraqi federal police.
The report also described widespread incidents of looting and arson in the city, which local politicians blamed on Iranian-backed groups.
A Reuters spokeswoman said the agency stood by the accuracy and fairness of its report. Facebook, acting on a request from Reuters, removed a series of threatening posts this week.
Rafid Jaboori, a spokesman for Haidar al-Abbadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said the government was “definitely against any message that encourages hatred or intimidation, whether it comes from a local or international network”.
Reacting to Parker’s case, Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division for Human Rights Watch, said Iraq’s leaders need to be more supportive of press freedom.
“This obviously has very chilling implications to any journalist – especially Iraqi journalists – working with the media today in Iraq,” he told Al Jazeera.
On the matter of freedom of the press, Stork said, Abbadi was making “very unfortunate remarks of how certain journalists and media outlets were besmirching the honour of Iraq and this sort of thing… [This] appears to be endorsing the threats by the militias – exactly the opposite of what he should have been saying”.
Michael Lavallee, a US State Department spokesperson, said: “We condemn all forms of intimidation and violence towards the media as the protection of journalistic freedoms is an essential aspect of all democratic societies.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media advocacy group, says that at least 15 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of 2013.