Iraqis mourn slain journalist amid protests

Crowds rally for better public services and mourn murdered radio host who was among Iraqi government's leading critics.

    Al-Mehdi was a sharp critic of the Iraqi government in his radio programme [AFP]

    Hundreds of people turned out to mourn Hadi al-Mehdi, an Iraqi radio personality who was shot dead in Baghdad on the eve of a major anti-government protest.

    Mourners marched on Friday with a symbolic coffin draped in an Iraqi flag from al-Mehdi's home in Karrada in central Baghdad to the city's Tahrir Square, where thousands of people had gathered for a rally calling for improved public services, a cause that al-Mehdi had supported.

    "The silenced weapon assassinates everything in my country," mourners chanted, referring to the fact that al-Mehdi was shot with a silenced gun.

    Al-Mehdi was one of the leading public critics of the Iraqi authorities' corruption and incompetence, said Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad.

    Our correspondent said al-Mehdi was a "popular radio host that some people found insulting, who criticised everyone from Prime Minister Maliki to 'dirty parliamentarians' and Shia militias".

    Protests were held in other Iraqi cities as well, including the southern port city of Basra, where about 500 people protested at the provincial council headquarters, calling on authorities to fight corruption and provide better services.

    Public services in the country are poor, especially electricity, with Iraqis receiving just a few hours of government grid power per day.

    About 750 people also demonstrated in Hilla in central Iraq, chanting slogans including "These jobless people are against the failed regime".

    And about 100 people protested in the central shrine city of Najaf, chanting slogans including "No, no to corruption!"

    Fighting corruption

    Police have said Hadi al-Mehdi was found shot dead in his home on Thursday evening.

    Human Rights Watch condemned Mehdi's killing in a statement: "Iraqi authorities should conduct an immediate, full and transparent investigation into the September 8, 2011, killing of Hadi al-Mehdi ... and prosecute those responsible".

    Amnesty International also condemned the murder, saying authorities are not doing enough to protect journalists.

    "The killing of [Mehdi] in Baghdad highlights how Iraqi authorities are failing to protect media workers from continued threats and violence," a statement said.

    Mehdi, 44, who was also a playwright and theatre director, hosted a programme called "Listen Up People" on independent station FM Radio Deymozee.

    Music and humour punctuated his pointed attacks on everyone he thought was ruining Iraq.

    Taxi drivers were riveted by the show and callers phoned in to complain about everything - from paying bribes to get running water to politicians who, once elected, moved to the Green Zone, the heavily guarded area where many of Baghdad's government institutions are housed.

    Although his favourite targets were corrupt politicians and the Iraqi parliament, he also lashed out at armed groups considered untouchable.

    "When we speak up and raise our voices they kill us and tell lies about us," he told Al Jazeera after he was arrested and beaten in a protest at the end of February. 

    The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press watchdog, said in June that Iraq topped its list of countries where media killings often go unpunished for the fourth year in a row, with an unsolved murder rate more than three times that of Somalia, which was second worst.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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