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Iraq sentences confessed killer of two journalists to death

Local television reporter Ahmad Abdessamad and his cameraman, Safaa Ghali, were killed in Iraq's southern city of Basra last year.
HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images

An Iraqi man accused of killing two journalists during anti-government protests in southern Iraq last year was sentenced to death by hanging on Monday.

In January 2020, Ahmad Abdessamad, a 37-year-old reporter for the local station Dijlah TV, and his 26-year-old cameraman, Safaa Ghali, were driving in the city of Basra when a group of armed men opened fire on their car. Abdessamad died on the scene, and Ghali succumbed to his gunshot wounds in a hospital. 

The suspect, who the Basra Criminal Court identified as “HK,” confessed that he had shot at the journalists “with the aim of destabilizing security and stability and intimidating people for terrorist purposes.” He now has 30 days to appeal his death sentence.  

Abdessamad and Ghali had been covering the anti-government protests that erupted in Baghdad and across Iraq’s Shiite-majority south in October 2019. The demonstrations, which called for an end to growing Iranian influence, government corruption and a lack of basic services, forced the resignation of then-Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. 

Human rights groups accused security forces of using violent tactics to suppress the unrest, including firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters. Iraq’s current premier, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has vowed to hold those responsible for the hundreds killed during the protests, including journalists, accountable. 

Reporters Without Borders named Iraq as the world’s second deadliest country for journalists in 2020. The report found that 84% of journalists killed that year were deliberately targeted. Seven died while covering protests. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the killings of 190 journalists in Iraq since 1992. Ten days after the killings of Abdessamad and Ghali, photojournalist Youssef Sattar was fatally shot while covering protests in Baghdad. 

In July 2020, prominent Iraqi security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi was assassinated by gunmen on motorcycles outside his home in the Iraqi capital. A year later, Kadhimi announced that authorities had arrested several people in connection with Hashimi’s murder, incuding a 36-year-old police lieutenant who confessed to the shooting.

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