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Honouring fallen comrades

Today, 12 July, is the 10th anniversary of the killing of Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and driver Saeed Chmagh in the streets of Baghdad by a US Apache helicopter. I was the Reuters bureau chief for Iraq at the time.

To honour Namir and Saeed, I will hold a small memorial service in a chapel near Ward 17, the PTSD psychiatric unit in Melbourne where I was admitted two weeks ago. (I’m making good progress and expect to be discharged on Monday at the latest.)

A chaplain will lead the memorial service for me. I have written a letter to Namir and Saeed that I will read aloud. I will light a candle for each of them and pray for their families. The beautiful little wooden birds in the photo are blue wrens, which are common where I live in Tasmania. The wrens represent the souls of Namir and Saeed.

There is a third candle and wren in the photo. They are for Lu’ay, an Iraqi translator working for Reuters who was shot dead on the streets of Baghdad by gunmen the day before Namir and Saeed were killed.

On this anniversary, I want to honour four other Reuters journalists I knew and I worked with, who were also violently taken from this world:

  • Muhanad Mohammed. An Iraqi, Muhanad was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad on 19 December 2013. Muhanad had worked first as a driver for Reuters, then as a reporter, for eight years.
  • Yasser Faisal. An Iraqi cameraman, Yasser was killed in Syria on 4 December 2013 while on assignment for a Spanish media company. Yasser worked for Reuters in Baghdad from 2003-2009.
  • Sabah al Bazi. An Iraqi, Sabah was working as a stringer for Reuters when gunmen attacked a government building in Tikrit on 29 March 2011. Sabah and another Iraqi journalist, Muammar Khadir Abdelwahad, from the Al-Ayn news agency, were covering a provincial meeting in the building. They were both killed.
  • Harry Burton. Gunmen killed Harry, an Australian cameraman working for Reuters, on a road about 90 km (50 miles) east of Kabul on 19 November 2001. Three other journalists were killed in the attack: Aziz Haidari, a Reuters photographer, Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and Julio Fuentes of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

The numbers of journalists and media workers killed in the line of duty around the world in the past 25 years is staggering.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,350 journalists and media workers have been killed since 1992 in direct reprisal for their work; killed in crossfire during combat; or killed carrying out a dangerous assignment such as coverage of a street protest.

The CPJ says an additional 490 journalists and media workers have been killed in circumstances where the motive was unclear, but where it’s possible it was because of their work.

That’s a total of 1,840. This of course does not include the many, many journalists killed before 1992.

I invite friends from all walks of life to pause today, to reflect for a moment on the ultimate sacrifice made by so many photographers, camera operators, producers, reporters, fixers, translators and drivers. All of them were just doing their job.

Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh

Reuters boosts support for staff with mental health issues

Dean Yates was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years. In May he was appointed the agency’s journalist mental health and wellbeing advocate.