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UNESCO welcomes release of French journalist and Iraqi assistant

UNESCO welcomes release of French journalist and Iraqi assistant

Koïchiro Matsuura
Deploring the toll that reporters have paid to keep the world informed about Iraq, the United Nations body entrusted with defending press freedom has welcomed the release of French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi assistant Hussein Hanoun after five months of captivity there.

"I call on all those in positions of power in the country to respect the fundamental human right of freedom of expression and the right of journalists to carry out their professional responsibilities in conditions of safety," United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.

"On this happy occasion, I must, nonetheless, express my concern about the unacceptable toll that media professionals are having to pay to keep us all informed about the situation in Iraq," he added.

Ms. Aubenas, correspondent of the French daily newspaper Libération, spent 157 days in captivity with her Iraqi assistant Mr. Hanoun. According to the non-governmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders, 11 journalists have been killed in Iraq this year alone, and 58 have died since the start of the fighting there.

Two television journalists, Frédéric Nérac and Isam Hadi Muhsin Al-Shumary, went missing on 22 March 2003 and 15 August 2004 respectively, and are still unaccounted for, according to the NGO.

Mr. Matsuura's statement was the latest in a long series of condemnations he has issued recently over attacks on journalists around the world. UNESCO's mandate includes the defence of freedom of expression and press freedom.