The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Iraqi authorities to investigate death threats against Reuters' bureau chief in Baghdad and ensure that journalists are able to work in Iraq without fear of reprisal.
Ned Parker was forced to flee Iraq following death threats, Reuters reported on Saturday.
"Threats aimed at silencing journalists, no matter from where they come, cannot be tolerated. The Iraqi people deserve to know and to share information about the extreme violence and volatility wracking their nation," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, from New York. "We call on authorities in Baghdad to investigate this act of intimidation and hold the perpetrators to account."
Reuters said the threats against Parker followed an April 3 report it had published about human rights abuses and looting perpetrated by Iraqi police and Shia militias in the city of Tikrit, which was largely freed from the militant group Islamic State days earlier. Parker co-authored the article.
The story described how two Reuters correspondents allegedly saw Iraqi federal police repeatedly stab an individual they apparently suspected of being an Islamic State fighter in the neck. The report said that Shia paramilitaries dragged a body through the streets behind their car. The report also described other cases of looting and arson in the city.
On April 5, a post on a Facebook group called "The Hammer" issued death threats against Parker, Reuters said. The agency cited an Iraqi security source as saying the Facebook group is believed to be linked to Shia militias.
The post demanded that Parker be kicked out of Iraq. One commenter said that killing Parker was the "best way to silence him." Facebook later removed a series of threatening posts at Reuters' request, according to Reuters.
Three days later, a news report on the satellite TV station Al-Ahd TV said Parker had attacked government forces in the article and demanded the journalist be deported, Reuters said. The station is owned by the Iranian-backed armed group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the agency said.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq is one of a number of groups that supports the Iraqi army in its war against Islamic State. As Islamic State has launched increasing attacks on Iraq, trained militias have stepped up to help the country fight the militant group, according to news reports.
Journalists in Iraq, particularly local ones, have been under threat as the security situation in the country has deteriorated, according to local press freedom groups including the Journalists Freedom Observatory.
(Source: Committee to Protect Journalists)