Islamic militants target photographers in Mosul



 
Photographers and cameramen are high on the hit list of Islamic militants, who believe the Quran prohibits the capturing of images. In Mosul, you can get killed for taking a snapshot at a wedding.
 
By Sahar al-Haideri
 
Iraq, Mosul:  Medical center. AFP PHOTO/MAURICIO LIMA
Iraq, Mosul: the medical center. © Maurico Lima / AFP

MOSUL, Oct. 2, 2007 (IWPR) - Shortly after paying his last respects to his dead friend, Aswan Lutfallah Jaf, Mosul journalist Karim Abbas received a call from Jaf’s mobile phone.

"Aswan’s murderers told me that all journalists and photographers will face death," said Abbas.

Aswan Lutfallah Jaf, a father of two, worked for the the American agency the Associated Press and the Zagros Kurdish satellite channel until his murder in December 2006. The militants who killed him took his camera and mobile phone, using it to threaten journalists, photographers and cameramen throughout the city.

The threats alarmed many journalists, but they did not come as a surprise. Sunni extremists in Mosul, 400 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, have long been intimidating those who record the life and death in the city.

Photojournalists and cameramen are high on the extremists’ list of targets, as their puritanical interpretation of Islam prohibits the capturing of images. You can be killed for taking photographs at a wedding or a child’s birthday.

In recent times, the extremists have murdered several photojournalists and cameramen who covered the security and political situation in Mosul.

Hussam Hilal Sarsam, a Kurdistan TV cameraman, was murdered after trying to escape kidnappers in 2005. Karam Hussein, a photojournalist for a European Press photo agency, was killed in 2004. Police were never able to identify the killers.

Mohammed al-Ban, a cameraman who worked for the al-Sharqiya satellite channel run by the Azzaman media foundation, was shot to death in front of his house last December in Mosul.

"Why do terrorists consider him a criminal? Why did they take him from his family, his friends, his relatives?" asked his wife, Zaineb Mussa. "He was robbed of his life just because he was a cameraman.”

Jaf had visited his next door neighbor, Arif Ahmed, the day before his murder. He hugged and kissed Ahmed several times.

"I asked him why,” recalled Ahmed, “and he replied, ‘I don't know, but I’m visiting all of my friends and kissing them. I feel like I will be leaving for a long time’. The following day I was shocked to learn he had been killed."

Reporters who received calls from Jaf’s phone contacted police. Nineveh province police chief Wathiq al-Hamdani told journalists to stay at home, warning them that “if the militants threaten someone, they are sure to carry out the threat".

Photojournalists blame the local authorities for not fulfilling pledges to protect them.

"We begged the police commander to provide us with security, and he has promised to do so. But it hasn’t happened so far," said Sara Samir, a photojournalist.

In the bookshops and restaurants along Majmua Thaqafiye Street, extremist literature can be founding warning locals to refrain from un-Islamic activities, listing photography and film-making among the prohibitions.
As a consequence, commercial photography shops and video camera hire outlets are closing down.
Daud Fawzi, a well-known photographer, started selling mobile phones and related accessories from his shop after receiving threats.

"I am a graduate of a fine arts academy and a respected cameraman but those idiotic people want to kill off my business," said Fawzi angrily.

Amir Abdullah, formerly a cameraman for the state-run Iraqiya satellite channel, has faced problems from militants and US troops in the city. He has escaped three abduction attempts. On one occasion, his kidnappers were about to behead him, letting him go after American helicopters flew close by.

Later, Abdullah said he had another near-death experience when US soldiers began shooting at him and a colleague who were filming a burning American military vehicle.

Adnan Dawood, media director for Nineveh provincial council, told IWPR that the few local newspapers that still publish feature few photographs because of the pressure exerted by the extremists. “It’s dangerous to print pictures,” he said.

Photojournalists determined to continue their trade often resort to covert tactics. For instance, Mohammed Karim, who works for a Mosul newspaper, hides his camera in a bag full of biscuits and chocolates, sneaking it out to take pictures when he feels it’s safe to do so.

"It's not worth risking your life for a photo," he said. "We don't know why we’re targeted - they have no mercy."


This article is part of a special report about Iraqi media from the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net). Sahar al-Haideri was an IWPR reporter based in Mosul before she was killed by Islamic militants in the city last summer. Click here for information about the Sahar Journalists’ Assistance Fund created in her name by IWPR. (Editor's note: some of the names in this story have been changed for security reasons.)