The Government Treats Journalists’ Cameras as though they were Car Bombs
JFO has documented a noticeable increase in the rate of violence against journalists/media workers and restrictions imposed on their work. A striking increase in both can be observed in the period between May 3, 2001 and May 3, 2012. Multiple bills are being introduced by the government, which threaten to severely limit freedom of the press, general freedom of expression, and internet use. The work of journalists/media workers, particularly when carrying a camera, has become a very complicated matter. Authorities have limited the permits of the movement of journalists, which must be obtained by the military and other security leadership in all Iraqi cities. More and more, journalists find themselves banned from covering an event if they haven't obtained security permits, the explanation of which changes regularly and arbitrarily, depending on whichever security forces happen to be present on the scene. When the type of permit is actually made clear, obtaining one is complicated in most cases. Security forces deals with a journalist holding a camera in the same way the way it deals with those they find possessing car bombs or unlicensed weapons.
JFO has observed arrests and detentions conducted by military intelligence against journalists, such as that of an American journalist for five days without any legal explanation, plus the arrest of multiple Iraqi journalists by plainclothes members of military intelligence, using methods which resemble kidnappings rather than official arrests, and which include death threats.
Organized criminal attacks against journalists continue as well, and were represented this year by the death of three journalists killed by armed attacks, one against a popular radio broadcaster, active in calling for demonstrations that were widespread in Iraq last year. Seven journalists survived assassination attempts, three of them seriously injured. Also, JFO registered 31 cases of journalists being beaten by security forces (both in uniform and in civilian clothes), 65 journalists were detained and arrested and detained, plus 84 additional cases of security forces banning media coverage and filming, 43 cases of blocking legal, free movement of journalists, and 12 cases of destroying or confiscating cameras. In addition, at least two media institutions were raided by security forces, and one radio station was shut down in Diwaniya.
In other attempts to control the media and limit access to information to Iraqi citizens that have been shown to exist, the Iraqi government conducts extensive surveillance and restriction of the internet access in Iraq. In a very critical development that has raised international condemnation among NGOs and freedom of expression activists, the executive branch pressures the parliament to legislate laws which clearly aim to restrict the freedom of expression and facilitate the way for the government to control the media in Iraq. Some of these laws have been passed while some others remain within the agenda of the parliament.
Pressure from executive authorities caused changes to be made in the media with the help of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate to pass the law “Journalist Protection” law, which conflicts with international standards of freedom of expression in several ways. It does state that journalists must have the right of access to governmental information, news, data and statistics, but vaguely states that these rights are “within what is allowed by law,” leaving room for the government to arbitrarily limit information.
A draft law on “Information crimes” introduced by the Council of Ministers is now before parliament, and will impose unreasonable restrictions and extreme penalties for internet use, should it pass. Again, the wording is often vague, and acts which can be punished with life imprisonment are worded to allow for them to be interpreted arbitrarily. Basic freedom of expression gives way to poorly-defined concepts such as “the public interests” or “public order and morals” without providing limits or definitions for these terms. Also, the law allows for stiff penalties for mere “insults” to “holy figures” or even individuals. This is all clearly in contravention of international standards and international law.
The CMC (Communication and Media Commission) of Iraq also works hand in hand with the ruling administration, security institutions and the Ministry of Communication to limit the freedom of journalism, continually imposing new restrictions on the free flow of information.
Official security decrees limiting journalists’ work have been on the rise in the past year, despite government statements to the contrary. On July 31, deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi said that he considered that freedom of media in Iraq is a matter that “might be considered a threat to national security,” adding that “journalists should not publish any news regarding cases of killing or arrest without the approval of the ministry,” under the excuse of a general lack of security. In an interior ministry statement on April 2012, the ministry announced it would “hold accountable those who report news or information from anonymous sources,” and promised to punish offenders.
This year has witnessed the killing of three journalists in Iraq, crimes which have not been prosecuted. According to the CPJ(Committee to Protect Journalists), journalists were exposed to a series of attacks after the American invasion in 2003, so far leading to the death of 259 Iraqi and foreign journalists, 146 of them it can be clearly demonstrated were killed due their journalistic work, plus 52 technicians and media assistants. In addition to that, 64 journalists and assistants were kidnapped, most of them being killed, and 14 of them still missing, according to JFO's statistics. All these crimes are still unsolved and no official charges have been made. Most of the earlier deaths can be linked to the violence of the war, but it should be noted that the killing hasn’t stopped, regardless of the authorities’ claims of achieving stability.
Notable among the unprosecuted crimes of the past year is the September 8 murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, found shot to death in his home in Baghdad’s Karada neighborhood. An officer in the Iraqi police who preferred to remain anonymous told JFO that primary investigations indicate that Hadi al-Mahdi was killed by a gunshot wound to the head by someone who evidence at the scene suggested had been received as a guest by the victim. Neighbors stated they haven't heard gun shots, which has led Iraqi police to conclude that al-Mahdi was likely killed by a gun fitted with a silencer.
On April 3, a news presenter of the Salah al-Din station was killed by an explosion while in his car. His coworkers informed JFO that the victim, Kamiran Salah al-Din, that the explosion was caused by a “sticky bomb”, placed beneath his car by an unknown attacker, and which detonated while he was driving through al-Zuhor neighborhood in central Tikrit. He died shortly after he was transferred to the hospital.
On June 21, Salim Alwan al-Qurabi, a cameraman for Afaq TV was killed by a car bomb in Diwaniya. Muhmmed Ismail, an al-Hurrya correspondent who witnessed the incident, told JFO that Qurabi, along with other cameramen, correspondents and media workers were at the southern gate of the local government building of Diwaniya based on an invitation of the governor who was planning to make a personal appearance. At 7:20 AM, a bomb fitted with explosives was driven by a suicide bomber into the area, killing and injuring a number of citizens, Qurabi among them.
Examples of violations that journalists were exposed to
Journalists and cameramen are all too familiar with systematic violations of their right to operate by security forces in control of Iraqi cities. JFO has documented dozens of cases of clear violations by security forces, including violence, threats, and damaging or confiscating equipment.
Among the many violations documented by JFO in the past year, here are some which occurred in a single month…
On May 4, al-Ahad TV correspondent Khamis al-Khazraji and his cameraman were beaten by Tikrit police, who also detained al-Khazraji, destroyed a camera and handcuffed the camera man, breaking his finger in the process.
On May 10, Ahmad Mira, chief editor of Livn magazine received a death threat from the minister of Peshmerga in Kurdistan region over the phone. The Metro Center for the Defense of Journalists, connected to JFO, has a recording of the phone call.
On May 22, an elite force from the interior ministry raided Thimar al-Watan (The Voice of Democratic Rising) radio station, and confiscated all equipments in the office. Talib Jafar, head of the station, told JFO that the security force verbally justified the raid on scene by telling employees of the station that the raid occurred because the station “is anti-government.”
On the 29th of last May 2011, media teams were beaten and their equipments were destroyed in the liberty square of Baghdad by the intelligent elements attached to the squadron 11 of Iraqi army. Omar Abdul Razzak al-Ameri, a Beladi TV correspondent, said that himself and his colleague Hassan Ghazi, a photographer of Russia today, photographer Husein Ali Husein and his assistant Abdullah Bash Abdullah, Ain media organization photographer Aqeel Mohammed and his colleague photographer Moayed Jasim were attacked and their equipments were confiscated along with the money they had and mobile phones after refusing the order of the intelligent elements to leaving the square
As those elements told they had intensive instructions of watching some specific media outlets.
On Monday 11th July 2011, security elements dressed in civilians assaulted the al-Hurriya satellite channel team while on live coverage from the liberty square o of Baghdad. Usama jawad, al-Hurriya correspondent – said that he and his colleague photographer Hani Abdul Zahra and some other technicians were on live coverage of peaceful demonstrations in the liberty square where security elements dressed in civilians attacked them and broke the tripod of the camera and diffused the live coverage devices, they insulted and beaten Hani Abdul Zahra, too.
, Shawket al-Bayati , a free lance journalist, told the JFO that he faced a murder trial while driving his car, and that he received so many threat letters when he was working with news a agencies.
On June 14, 2011, correspondents of Baghdad and al-Ittijah channels in Najaf survived a murder trial. Ali al-Tayyar , Baghdad correspondent in Najaf, said that he and his colleague of al-Ittijah channel Haider Salih Mahdi were stopped by a car with two armed men inside it, but they survived the murder and rushed to the nearest check point.
On the same day, al-Furat correspondent Qasim Mohammed Abid was assaulted by a federal police officer in Ramadi.
On the 16th of June 2011, bodyguards of the environment minister attacked Ali Hassan Salah and his colleague photographer Mohammed Salih al-Saeedi of the Iraq's news net.
On the 3rd July 2011, bodyguards of the premier embarrassed some journalists in Kerbala; they banned the satellite channels and news agencies correspondents from entering the hall and kept them by the gate of the park and talked badly to them.
Jafar al-Nasrawi, al-Sumeria correspondent said that elements of the premier's bodyguards banned the journalists entering the hall under the allegations that there was no sniffing dog to check them. They talked badly to the journalists and described the female journalists as "prostitutes' and the male journalists as "the exhausted society" and accused all the journalists of some impolite accusations.
On the 10th July, some foreign and local photographers and correspondents complained the continuous assaults on them by the intelligent elements while practicing their missions in covering the events in Baghdad adding that those elements dressed in civilians and backed up by Iraqi soldiers.
Usama Abdul Rahman, photographer of Sarabeel agency that works for many local, Arab and international satellite channels, said he and some other correspondents and photographers were intersected by some intelligent elements while they were leaving the liberty square of Baghdad, they were severely beaten that one of his friends Mohammed Thamer-assistant photographer- still keeping at home for not being able to move as well as another colleague Thaer Juma who was badly beaten. They were taken to the head quarter of defense ministry and confiscated their money and cameras. They put plastic sacks on their faces and set them free in Alawi al-Hilla area after three hours of custody and threatened them not to do live coverage again.
On the 14th of July. Al-Babiliya channel said that a check [point of Iraqi army attacked and beaten its staff in Baghdad while preparing to shoot for a program of Ramadan; they beaten correspondent Usama Anwer using their rifles and spoke badly to him with disgusting sectarian words.
On July, 16, 2011, teams of satellite channels, Kurd sat, Kurdistan people, Nalia, Kurdistan, were attacked by unknown armed elements dressed in civilians while covering an incineration in Sulaimaniya. Metro center representing the JFO in KRG told that armed men dressed in civilians attacked journalist Nabez Shwani and photographer Ibrahim Adnan and severely beaten them.
"I had some wounds in my mouth and my colleagues had a broken rib in addition to the destruction of the camera" said Nabez Shwani who added that the armed men attacked the team of Kurd Sat Hawkar AbdulRrahman and Haimen Mohammedi.
Metro center added that Miran Bakir correspondent of Kurdistan people told "Unknown armed men attacked and banned us by force from shooting and tried to confiscate the cassettes, too".
Presenter of Zoom Een of Kurdistan channel Rozgar Koger was beaten, too.
On the 23rd July 2011, photographer Saadullah al-Khalidi was kidnapped by the military intelligent group and was severely beaten before released after 10 hours in custody, he told about the torture he faced while was eye-folded and hands tightened, he faced a kill threat, too.
On the 30th July, Salahuddin police threatened the journalists of sexual abuse, journalists work in Salahuddin channel complained the attack- on the phone- of the police director general Abdul Karim al-Khazraji on the media teams work for the channel accusing them of terrorism and that they lack morale and honor because they aired some scenes of a suicidal attack. They added that Khazraji threatened them of sexual abuse once they keep airing such scenes.
At the same time, a journalist works for Salahuddin channel was arrested and brutally beaten while he was back from covering a tour with an official.
Photographer Haider Ubaid Hassan said that" I went to cover the explosion that took place close to the channel, but the soldiers attacked me and inhumanly beaten me, they tightened my hands back and put me in a car under the hot sun for more than one hour".
On the 5th of September 2011, manager of Awena media company Asos Hardi was attacked by a man dressed in black in the middle of Sulaimaniya and was stabbed in his head; medical source said the wounds indicated that he was hit by a pistol end.
On the 13th of September, journalist Shakir al-Aajeebi of Muthanna province was held for more than one hour while on his way to work. When he showed them the badge of facilitating the task of the journalists that signed by the province police director general, the person who granted him the badge asked the police through the walki- talki to tear the badge and to detain him.
On the 18th of September, , news editor of local al-Fayhaa newspaper attached to the IMN, Faris Abbas al-Samawi's house was targeted by a barrage of shooting from automatic weapons.
On the 29th of September, the check point attached to al-Muthanna squadron banned al-Sharqiya team entering al-Hamdaniya area of Abu Ghraib under the allegations they did not have approval from Baghdad operations command; they detained the channel correspondent Meenas al-Suhail for more than one hour.
On October 9, 2011,the team of al-Hurra channel was assaulted by the guards of the air force sport club. Ahmed Qasim, correspondent of the sport section of the channel, said that he and photographer Majid Tamor and assistant Mohanned Hassan were attacked by a man in Baghdad.
On the 18th of October, correspondent of al-Iraqiya channel in Naseriya, was attacked by unknown armed men while he was back from the channel office on his way to al-Rifaee area where he resides; he was badly wounded in different parts of his body.
On the 28th of October, a military forces attached to al-Anbar operations command attacked the house of journalist khalil al-alwani who works in al-Sharq newspaper without any legal warrant. Alwani said the operations command denied their knowledge about the assault adding that "it was a personal behavior of the commander of the squadron who liked to interrogate you about some issues".
On the 19th of October, Sarsenk police attacked the team of Speeda channel. According to metro center that represents the JFO in KRG, an officer abused the team of the channel attached to the Kurdistan Islamic union while covering a peaceful demonstration of high school students. Photographer of the channel said the officer boxed him on his face and the clue still shown on his face.
On last October21, Daniel Smith, the American journalist, was arrested for five days in Baghdad by the military intelligence. And after the intervention of the journalistic freedom observatory, he was released by a statement from the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki.
On last October 26, the Diwaniyah Council voted to close the local broadcast “Al-Sada" that broadcasts from the city until a later notice. Dakhil Al-Kinani, a member in the province council stated: “the Council decided to close Al-Sada broadcast that broadcasts from inside the province until a later notice due to the broadcast's violation of the contract conditions with the local government."
On last October 31, the security of Baghdad University captured Sheyma Hussam Al-Ta'I, the correspondent of Anba' Al-Mustaqbel Ageny, for more than an hour because she covered a demonstration by the University students protesting against the uniform.
On November 1, the governor of Basrah, Khalaf Abdul Samad, gave an order to break into Al-Mirbed broadcast and arrest the staff with no judicial writs. Kamal Al-'Asadi,the director of the broadcast, informed the journalistic freedom observatory that ten armed civilians with a number of government vehicles broke into the broadcast building that belongs to Al-Mirbed Media Institution and arrested a number of the staff who were: Muhammed Al-'Asady, Dhia' Ifreet and Kadhum Ma'touk Al-Bazzouni under the charge of circulating for the banned Ba'ath Party.
On November 15, 'Umar Al-Duleimi, head of the conjoined society of journalists, informed the journalistic freedom observatory that he was attacked last Sunday morning by five unknown persons who were carrying knives in Al-Mefreq area west of Ba'quba saying that he was injured in his chest, hand and foot.
On November 19, Waleed Al-Zeidi, the photographer of Aka news Agency was beaten by three civilians whom are thought to work for the Intelligence and they confiscated all his photographing equipments. He said: " Three civilians carrying weapons stopped me in the way, took me to a side road away from the demonstrators, beat me and confiscated my camera and recorder, and the deleted all the photos and broke the recorder," he continued then: "the three persons justified what they did by saying that I did not get a permit from the headquarter of Baghdad Operations."
On November 24, the journalist Tahseen Al-Zerkani, the correspondent of Al-Hurriyah Satellite Channel, was severly beaten in Al-Qadissiyah Province- Diwaniyah- by the guards of the head of the council, Jubeir Al-Jubouri when he was accompanying him in a visit to Al-Hamza Al-Sherqi region. Then he was taken to the emergency section in Al-Diwaniyah Hospital after being beaten by the head of the Council's guards without mentioning the reasons.
On December, the Kurdish authorities arrested five journalists in Duhok. According to Metro Centre, the partner of the journalistic freedom observatory, that works in Kurdistan a number of journalists who work for a broadcast belonging to the Kurdistan Islamic Party were captured. Those captured journalists work for Khabeer broadcast that belonged to this party, they were: the manager of the broadcast, Hassan Yaseen, the news broadcaster, Islam Sa'eed, the director, Norcy Ramadhan, the presenter, Yussif Saleem, and the photographer, Saleem Nassrul-Deen.
On January 22 this year, a force from the Ministry of Interior arrested the journalist Ali Al-Feyadh and captured him for five days without any law or judicial writ claiming that he spreaded news about dismissing tens of the employees of the Directorate. Then he was released last Thursday. The correspondent of Al-Zaman Newspaper in Wassit, Ali Al-Feyadh, informed the journalist freedom observatory that he was captured on January 15 by the facilities guards because he spreaded a news about dismissing 36 employees from the directorate staff. This news was broadcasted by Al-Iraqiya Satellite Channel, the Ministry of Interior spokesman made a statement about this news, then the Baghdadiya Channel broadcasted it, and newspapers and news agencies spreader it.
On January 22 this year, Safa' Wahim, a free journalist, informed the journalistic freedom observatory that he was maltreated, tortured, dragged, beaten, chained and offended by some guards in the Al-Kindi General Hospital amidst Baghdad after his criticizing to the way of compulsion the visitors to pay bribes to the official so that they can inter to the Hospital.
On February 19, a number of correspondents and correspondents in Iraqi and foreign mass media were offended and captured in Ashref camp to the north of Baghdad while they were covering the operation of transporting the camp's residents to a new camp nearby Baghdad International Airport, the place that enjoys a wide security protection. The observatory received many complaints from journalists stating that they were offended unjustifiably. Besides, individuals from the Iranian Embassy tried to offend them on last Friday morning- soldiers from the fifth military legion assigned to guard the camp took the journalists' ID's, captured them and prevented them from achieving their tasks in the camp.
On February 22, forces belong to the Ministry of Interior captured the correspondent Tareeq Al-Sha'ab newspaper, 'Aymen Al-Shibeebi, for three hours while he was covering one of the students demonstrations that demanded the resignation of the Deanery of the college of Technologies amidst Baghdad. They did not rely on any law; and his camera was confiscated by the Intelligent Agency in Baghdad.
On March 3, the security forces in Al-Nassiryah city impeded the work of the journalists for two days and formed a security border to prevent them from covering the demonstrations organized by the supporters of the man of religion, Mahmoud Al-Serkhi.
On March 3, in front of the Beeshmerga forces commandery in Duhok, a group of soldiers from legion 8 of the Iraqi Army stopped and beat two teams from KNN and NRT Satellite Channels and destroyed their cameras after arresting them.
On February 7, the journalist Muhammed Sa'ad Ferhan, a correspondent for Al-Anbar Satellite Channel and a local Satellite Channel, escaped from an attempt of assassination with knife by an unknown person amidst a local market in Al-Ramadi city to the west of Baghdad.
On February 15, Iraqi security forces captured two journalists working for a Russian Channel for three hours at a security barrier in Al-Mansour neighborhood when they were making their news reports for this Channel.
On February 17, Rahman Ghareeb, the correspondent of Al-Somariya news and manager of Metro Center was beaten and offended by the security forces in Suleymania city. More than 20 individuals from the security forces beat him with sticks although he was wearing the yellow vest of journalists.
On February 17, the security forces in Suleymania arrested three photographers who work for Metrography electronic website and confiscated their equipments, then they were captured at Al-Sarai Police Station.
On April 7, the security forces in Meysan Province captured a member in the Iraq Journalists Syndicate, the journalist Zakiya Al-Mazouri, at one of the check points while she was returning from Al-'Imara city after achieving journalistic investigations, reports and interviews with officials in the Province for Al-Mada Institution. She said that she was captured for hours at the check point between Kumeit region and Ali Al-Sharqi region by forces in the Iraqi Police, and then she was released after the intervention of politicians from the Province. She and members of her family received actual threatens in the last few months and while she was in Meysan. Her three children also were subject to kidnapping.
On February 17, Dana Rezgeye, the correspondent of Hawlani newspaper in Raniya city, was beaten with riffles backs by more than 12 individuals. He informed Metro Center: "I was trying to take some photos when more than 12 individuals who were wearing military uniforms and belonged to the Beeshmerga sixth infantry legion beat me with riffles backs for more than ten minutes after confiscating my equipments."
On February 23, Sawt Al-Etihad Radi building in Suleymaniya was attacked by a group of militants with firing shots.
On April 4, the security forces captured a journalist for three days in Dhi Qar and confiscated his equipments with the knowing of Muneer Jewad Kadhum Al-'Ibadi, the first emergency regiment command. The journalist was arrested for hours andthen transported to Al-Thawra Police Station to register his testimony. After that he was transported to an unknown place at night and stayed for three days.
On April 7, individuals from the army captured a French journalist and his escort south of Baghdad when they were achieving their tasks. Bashar Mandalawy, a freelance independent journalist, who was escorting the French journalist Marc Nixon said to the JFO that while they were heading to the area of Arab Jibour south of Baghdad to achieve a journalistic task for the French Weekly "Le Bon", they were stopped by individuals from the eleventh legion of the Iraqi Army, informed that they could not get to the area due to some security procedures related to protecting Al-Sahwa members, took them out of the vehicle and asked for their official documents which they checked for a long time. They also made a condition that an Intelligence officer should accompany the two journalists to the official's residence and listen to the conversations.
On April 8, the board of CMC threatened to close off Al-Somariya Satellite Channel and menaced to impose punishments, suspend their license and stop their operations in Iraq. The board broadcast an official statement on their website warning Al-Somariya Satellite Channel from continuing the broadcast of the programs: "There is someone" and "Kalam leaks", otherwise the board will be obliged to impose sever punishments like suspending their license and stopping their work in Iraq."
Al-Somaroya Satellite Channel broadcast the program AKO FAD WAHID “someone" every Sunday. It is a fun show that is so popular based on exchanging jokes funny news.
Whereas the weekly show "Kalam leaks", presented by Reenas Ali deals with all the issues in Iraq whether social, political, artistic, sport and others that must be focused on by mass media.