BAGHDAD (AFP) — The angry family of an Iraqi journalist went on local television on Wednesday to blast him for claiming they had been massacred three days ago by Shiite militiamen in Baghdad.
"We are still alive. Thank God!" the sister of the journalist said, before bursting into tears.
The journalist, Dia al-Kawwaz, had said she was among the 11 family members slaughtered by militamen on Sunday in his home in Baghdad's northern Al-Shaab neighbourhood.
Al-Hurrah television paraded the relatives of Kawwaz, clearly alive -- and clearly angry.
"No one attacked us ... militias or special forces. Nobody stormed our home. He even organised a condolence meeting to mourn our deaths. But we are alive. We are ashamed that he is our brother," said the sister, wearing a green dress and headscarf.
State television also spoke to Kawwaz's mother who said she was in Kut, south of Baghdad.
"I disown him. I consider that I do not have a son. He is a liar," the agitated woman said on the channel which did not show her picture.
"We all are fine and peaceful, inshallah (God willing). I don't know why he did that."
After the broadcast, Kawwaz confirmed to AFP by telephone from Amman that those shown on Al-Hurrah were indeed his family members.
"She is my sister. They (government) forced her to appear on TV. They have been threatened with death and their passports have been confiscated by the interior ministry," Kawwaz said.
When probed further for details he suddenly hung up the phone saying: "Leave me alone."
On Monday, a report on Kawwaz's website Shabekat Akhbar al-Iraq (Network of Iraqi News) had elaborately described the way his family members were killed, saying the attacker sprayed them with gunfire and later bombed the house.
Earlier Wednesday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh denied the killings and said the journalist's family was safe in Baghdad.
"There was no physical liquidation of any member of his family," Dabbagh told reporters.
He said he had spoken to Kawwaz's mother who denied the massacre.
Dabbagh said an interior ministry team had investigated the allegations of Kawwaz and concluded no killings had occurred, adding that one relative of Kawwaz had died in an accident in Kut.
Police officers from Al-Shaab neighbourhood also denied the killings.
"We told the interior ministry that there was no such incident in Shaab," a local police officer told an AFP reporter who went to the neighbourhood to locate Kawwaz's house.
"We have civilian informants who also denied the incident. We checked for 48 hours and there is no information of such a crime. He is a liar, a big liar," the officer said on condition of anonymity.
On Monday, Kawaaz told reporters he heard about the alleged massacre from his mother and later that day he held a condolence meeting in Amman to mourn the deaths.
The gathering was attended by a number of Iraqi Sunni politicians, including MPs such as Saleh al-Mutlaq and Hussein al-Falluji, according to an AFP correspondent who attended the service.
Several former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party also took part.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders strongly criticised Kawwaz on Wednesday.
"We are obviously relieved to learn that the Kawwaz family is safe and sound but this journalist's behaviour is unacceptable," it said.
"We are appalled by this deceit, which is not only sordid but also dangerous as it obscures the fact that the families of dozens of journalists have been exposed to violence by Iraq's armed groups."
Journalists are frequently targeted by insurgents in Iraq and few are freed if kidnapped. Mostly their bodies are found dumped a few days after they disappear.
The media watchdog said at least 206 journalists, technicians or assistants have been killed since the US-led invasion of March 2003, 46 of them since the start of this year.
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