“I am deeply concerned about reports that spiralling violence is preventing both international and local media from covering events in Iraq,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said in a statement released today, his latest intervention on behalf of journalists in general and those working in war-torn Iraq in particular.“Every Iraqi and everyone who cares about the future of Iraq must be horrified to see guns and bullets take the place of thought and debate. It is very dangerous indeed to let gunmen muzzle the public exchange of news and opinions.”Gunmen on Wednesday kidnapped and killed Atwar Bahjat, a correspondent for Al Arabiya television and two members of her crew: cameraman Adnan Khairallah and soundman Khaled Mohsen. Police are reported to have found the bodies of the three, all of them Iraqi nationals, on the outskirts of Samarra which was the scene of sectarian violence.“The work of journalists is essential for democracy, nowhere more so than in a country that has suffered decades of oppression and strife,” Mr. Matsuura said.“I am appalled by the level of violence directed at the media in Iraq. It is essential that such attacks be stopped and that journalists, who have shown courage and dedication in carrying out their professional duties, be able to continue informing the public freely,” he added.According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) 109 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the United States-led invasion 2003. UNESCO is the only UN agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom, and Mr. Matsuura has issued frequent condemnations of the murder of journalists around the world in recent months.

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