After Soran Hama's death

Speech by Judit Neurink, director of IMCK, after the death of Lveen-journalist Soran Mama Hama, in July 2008

Monday my good friend Yahya Basindji of Avene and AP was wounded when he was beaten up by a mob after a bombblast in Kirkuk. Last week my former student Soran Mama Hama of Lveen was assasinated in Kirkuk. Being a journalist in Iraq is a dangerous profession, we all know.



And that is because so many people do not realize how important press freedom is for a nation. Without press freedom, no democracy. Those two are linked tightly.
Because in a democracy, the media check on politicians and their actions, give civilians a voice and show what is happening in society. How long will we have to wait until Iraq is a democracy, and authorities will understand that they have to protect journalists, in stead of threatening them? That by letting these things happen, they do not show strength, but weakness, even fear? Fear for a press that is doing what it should be doing…

Look at the murder of Soran Hama. He was a talented young guy. Did a courageous story about prostitution in Kirkuk. Showing links that were not shown before. Did his job. For us journalists have the responsibility to keep our eyes open, and report on what is happening in our society. The good, the bad and the evil.
Because of our work, bad politicians can be prosecuted. Look at the Yugoslavia tribunal, look at the Rwanda tribunal. Part of what is happening there, is because courageous journalists reported on what happened. Collected stories and told them, in their newspapers, or at their stations.
Journalists like Soran, like Yahya. They should be able to do their work.

For me as a western journalist, it is easy to talk about press freedom. In Holland I can write all those stories that might be considered dangerous out here, without missing a moment of sleep. Our problems are so minor compared to those of my colleagues here. In Holland you might be picked up by the police to reveal a source, but the outcry is always enormous and usually no sources are revealed. In Holland politicians will use spokespersons who try to hide some of the truth, but good journalists will find that out eventually. In Holland footage on film of a violent protest might be confiscated by the police, to help prosecute the perpetrators. But many times broadcasters refuse to give it, and have already hidden it somewhere safely.

When I wrote on my weblog for the Dutch daily Trouw about Sorans dead, a lot of people reacted. Even people in my country feel strongly about the plight of journalists out here. For us in the West, Iraqi journalists have become our eyes and ears, for there are so many places we blond westerners cannot go to. Without the reports of Iraqi journalists, the world would not know what is happening out here. That makes them very important, more important than many of them realize. For because of them, history can be written.



And they are very near to the fire, and have been for the past years. Dangerously near to the fire.
A Dutch guy who works with fire brigades reacted to Sorans death by telling me about the fire fighters from this region he had been training. When he told me, he reminded me of journalists and their work.
He said the trainees and he were working in a situation were an enormous explosion and a fire are being simulated. All the fighters had been told to duck down low, until the enormous flame being produced had blown over them. But the guys from the region kept standing up. Couragous? He wondered, and even wanted to send these guys out of the training for refusing orders.

Courageous? Standing up when you know, for you have been warned, a fire flame will hit you? No, stupid. But you only learn by doing. And this goes for journalists too. They have to find out where the limits are. They have to find out when risks can be taken, and when it is too dangerous. And Iraq this process is still going on.

It’s a precarious process. Because some of the attackers want journalists to become afraid, want them to censure themselves, want them to back off. Now I really hope this will not happen. That this will not be the result of what happened in one week to two colleagues. I hope journalists will go on trying to do their work. I only hope they will be more careful, and will try not to be heroes. To look over their shoulder a bit more often, to duck down before the flame will hit them.

Difficult, I can hear you say. Sure. But if Soran had not left his house to meet the visitors, we would not be here. If Yahja had not been at the centre of things, he would not have beaten up, perhaps. Risks we take. We all do. But let’s also be careful.
But let’s not be afraid. Let’s not give them what they want.
Let’s do our work. That is badly needed.

And because that is so badly needed, let us keep saying loud and clear to the authorities: We journalists are not your enemy. We are part of the democracy you say you want in our Kurdistan. Stop hassling and threatening journalists. Protect then. Now.
For the sake of journalists, but also very much of your own sake.

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