BAGHDAD — Execs, technicians and journalists at the Baghdad HQ of Iraqi satcaster Al-Baghdadiyah erupted in celebration Nov. 19 when kidnappers freed reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi, 28, three days after he disappeared on his way to work.
The channel had in September mourned the death of presenter Jawad al-Daami, shot dead by unknown gunmen as he was driving through the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Qadisiyah.
When Zaidi called Nov. 16 to say he had been abducted, everyone feared the worst. Forty-six media workers have already been killed in Iraq this year, and 206 have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
The bodies of abducted media workers are usually found dumped in the street a day or two after they disappear. Few are ever released. Zaidi defied the odds.
On Nov. 19, looking tired and in good health, he thanked “all the Iraqi citizens who stood with me.”
“I am grateful to them for their prayers,” he said in an interview on Al-Baghdadiyah. “When I have recovered, I will continue my work. We (journalists) have undertaken to serve the Iraqi people and we will continue on this path. Nothing can stop us but death.”
Scrolling messages across the bottom of the screen carried messages from viewers hailing the release.
“Congratulations to Al-Baghdadiyah that its son has returned,” said one. “Thank God that you are safe,” said another. Reporters Without Borders, which on Nov. 18 said the kidnapping of a journalist in Iraq “is often a prelude to his murder, and we have every reason to fear for Zaidi’s life,” on Nov. 19, too, hailed his release.
“It is a great relief to see this journalist return safe and sound to his family,” it said in a statement. “We must continue to campaign for the 14 other journalists of whom there has been no news since they were kidnapped in Iraq.”
The Iraqi news agency Aswat Al-Iraq said Zaidi was reunited with his family after being taken to a hospital for a brief checkup. The agency quoted an unnamed source as saying no ransom was paid for his release.
Al-Baghdadiyah is an independent channel that began broadcasting after the invasion with support from Iraqi businessmen.