“I deplore the death of Mahmoud Za’al. All too many journalists have been dying in Iraq,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said of last Monday’s killing in a statement issued at his agency’s Paris headquarters. “Media professionals are showing incredible courage in carrying out their commitment to keep the public informed. Their invaluable contribution to democracy inspires great respect and I call on the authorities to do their utmost to improve the safety of all media professionals in the country, in the interest of democracy and of the basic human right of freedom of expression,” he said. Mr. Za’al, 35, was killed while reporting on clashes in Ramadi, some 100 kilometres west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. Philippines journalist Rolly Cañete was shot to death by unidentified gunmen on 20 January, and Graciano Aquino was killed by attackers said to be members of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines, Rebolusyonaryong Hukbo ng Bayan, on Saturday, 21 January, UNESCO said. “I condemn the assassination of Rolly Cañete and of Graciano Aquino,” the Director-General declared. “It is important for democracy and rule of law that journalists be allowed to do their work without let or hindrance, regardless of their political leanings. These heinous crimes represent onslaughts on the basic human right of freedom of expression and on another essential component of democracy: namely, media pluralism.”He expressed extreme concern about the number of journalists killed in the exercise of their profession in the Philippines. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists put the figure at 22 since 2000, seven of them last year alone. “I trust that that country’s authorities will succeed in upholding democracy as they continue to track those responsible for these crimes,” he added.According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 35 journalists killed in Iraq last year.The condemnation by the UNESCO chief is the latest in a long series he has issued recently over attacks on journalists around the world. UNESCO has the international community’s mandate to defend freedom of expression and press freedom worldwide.