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UNESCO chief pleads for release of French journalists abducted in Iraq

UNESCO chief pleads for release of French journalists abducted in Iraq

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today issued an urgent plea for the release of two French reporters held hostage in Iraq, vigourously condemning for the second time in a week the “shameful targeting” of journalists in the strife-torn country.

Christian Chesnot, a correspondent for Radio France International, and Georges Malbrunot of the daily Le Figaro are being held by militants demanding that France rescind a ban on Muslim female students wearing headscarves in schools, according to a video aired on the Al-Jazeera Arabic television station.

“It is totally unacceptable that conflicting factions should use them [the journalists] as pawns in their struggle. Such attacks will not contribute to the well-being of the people of Iraq. Such actions are contrary to the teaching of Islam,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.

“I am deeply distressed by the shameful targeting of media professionals in Iraq and wish to pay tribute to their courage and their exemplary commitment to freedom of expression,” he added.

According to the International News Safety Institute, 51 media workers from 16 countries have died covering the Iraq conflict. The heaviest toll has been paid by Iraqi journalists – 28 of them have been killed.

Over the past several months Mr. Matsuura has issued numerous condemnations of the murder of journalists in various countries, calling them an attack on society as a whole. Only last Saturday he denounced reported killing in Iraq of Italian reporter Enzo Baldoni as a “flagrant disregard for civilian lives and for the most fundamental human values."