Journalists were the victims of obstruction, threats and violence during Iraq’s 30 April parliamentary elections, the first since the withdrawal of US troops in late 2011. Violence by jihadi groups and inter-communal tension of a political and sectarian nature marked the security climate.
“We are very concerned about the threats and attacks against journalists in Iraq, both by security forces and armed groups, and we urge the authorities to take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of media personnel,” said Lucie Morillon, Reporters Without Borders head of research.
The attacks on media personnel have occurred in a climate of complete impunity. The Iraqi authorities have taken no effective measures to guarantee the safety of journalists, despite repeated requests by local and international organizations. On World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the United Nations voiced “deep concern” about the safety of journalists in Iraq.
Attacks and obstruction
At least four media workers were injured on 28 April by an explosive device placed in a bus carrying journalists to cover the elections in Al-Mawsal, 400 km north of Baghdad. Radio Siwa reporter Ahmed Hiali, who was injured in the shoulder and leg, told the Doha Centre for Media Freedom from his hospital bed that the police gave them no protection and did no more than transport them to hospital after the explosion.
Police prevented an Al-Baghdadiya TV crew from entering polling stations in Al-Anbar, 100 km west of Baghdad, on 28 April. This is the region where, last January, the authorities imposed a news blackout on the army’s offensive against Sunni insurgents, especially in the cities of Fallujah and Al-Ramadi (LINK).
Unidentified individuals prevented an Al-Hurra TV crew from covering a protest in Karbala on 24 April against abuse of authority affecting teachers in the region. In a press release, Al Hurra reporter Iman Bilal said she had been “attacked, insulted and prevented from covering the demonstration by a group stationed nearby.”
Deadly security climate
There has been a disturbing evolution in the violence against journalists, who are being targeted not only by jihadi group such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) but also by Iraqi authorities.
In a statement on 30 April, UNESCO said: “Political tension, instability, the war in Syria and the ineffectiveness of the authorities and security forces are all negative factors that are having an impact on the safety of journalists and media independence in Iraq.”
Abuses against journalists range from arbitrary arrest to murder. Fifteen Iraqi journalists have been killed in the past six months. Seven were killed in personally targeted attacks, five were killed in a suicide attack on Salaheddin TV in Tikrit in December, and three were the collateral victims of suicide bombings or car bombs.
Radio Babel journalist Raji Hamadallah was badly injured on 23 March when gunmen fired shots at him and then fled. Soldiers arrested Saeed Abdulhady, the newspaper Al-Mootamar’s news editor, in a humiliating manner, without a warrant or explanation, outside the University of Baghdad on 15 April. A warrant was issued on 4 March for the arrest of Al-Baghdadiya TV director Aun Al-Khashluk and Anwar Al-Hamdani, the host of the TV station’s “Ninth Studio” programme, on charges of “disturbing public order and inciting chaos and inter-communal violence”. The programme often contains revelations about corruption involving senior government officials. As they are based in Egypt, they have not been arrested.
According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory ( JFO ), a Reporters Without Borders partner organization, there were 328 cases of abuses against journalists in 2013: 103 journalists were arrested, 162 were obstructed while trying to access information, 63 were the victims of violence and four were attacked by armed groups. A total of 71 complaints were filed against media and journalists, and four media were suspended
Read the observations and recommendations on freedom of information in Iraq that Reporters Without Borders has prepared for Iraq’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council during its 20th session in November 2013.