Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Journalist and Protest Leader Murdered in Baghdad Home

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for a full investigation into the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi on September 9, 2011. The popular radio journalist was shot dead in his home in Baghdad; witnesses at the crime scene informed HRW that they saw no evidence of a struggle and no valuables were taken from the house, implying that the killing was deliberate rather than a result of burglary. Al-Mahdi, who was a prominent freelance journalist and theatre director, had been openly critical of government corruption and social inequality in Iraq. In the run-up to Iraq’s “Day of Rage” on February 25, al-Mahdi became increasingly involved as a vocal organizer of Iraq’s new protest movement; he stressed the importance of peaceful demonstrating, and he took part in a human chain to keep the riot police and violent protestors apart. After the protests, al-Mahdi and three other journalists were arrested in a Baghdad restaurant; he was blindfolded, beaten and threatened with torture in the subsequent interrogation. Al-Mahdi alleged that he was forced, whilst blindfolded, to sign a criminal confession and a pledge to stop his participation in future demonstrations. Despite this ordeal, he continued to organise peaceful demonstrations in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. The journalist was not unaccustomed to intimidation. According to HRW, he frequently received death threats in the form of text messages, phone calls, and messages on Facebook.
Al-Mahdi’s murder is part of years of targeted violence against journalists in Iraq. Most recently, an unknown assailant beat Asos Hardi, a prominent journalist, with a pistol in Sulaimaniya; Hardi was hospitalized and left needing 32 stitches. Ammar al-Shahbander, the head of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Iraq, said “so many journalists have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq but it doesn’t matter how many are tortured, intimidated, or killed – journalists will continue doing their jobs. This attack just shows how desperate the enemies of democracy have become.”

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