By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Killers target activists performing logistics for Iraqi protests

Forces opposed to the protests in Iraq appear to have stepped up operations to kill protest activists and journalists covering the demonstrations following the escalation of the crisis between the United States and Iran in Iraq.

Hundreds of protesters have been reported killed since the protests began in early October. But there has been a subset of killings that has targeted protest activists who have been raising funds, providing ambulance services and mobilizing demonstrators.

Journalists providing the public with information about the protests also have been killed in an apparent bid to curtail coverage.

Click here to read the full article.

By Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A group of armed men wearing black uniforms stormed into my house in Baghdad and abducted me,” Iraqi blogger Shojaa Fares al-Khafaji told me a few days after his early-morning kidnapping by an Iraqi militia in October.

“They took me to a remote location overlooking the Tigris River and questioned me about my work, my family, and even my car. … They knew I have a blog and I am certain that was the main reason for my abduction.”

Khafaji’s captors ultimately released him, but urged him to keep his mouth shut. He has chosen to live up to his first name—which is Arabic for “brave”—and continue writing his blog in the face of government repression.

But his ordeal was not an unusual one for an Iraqi journalist, and most are not as determined to risk their lives to continue reporting.

Click here to read the full story.

By Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A group of armed men wearing black uniforms stormed into my house in Baghdad and abducted me,” Iraqi blogger Shojaa Fares al-Khafaji told me a few days after his early-morning kidnapping by an Iraqi militia in October.

“They took me to a remote location overlooking the Tigris River and questioned me about my work, my family, and even my car. … They knew I have a blog and I am certain that was the main reason for my abduction.”

Khafaji’s captors ultimately released him, but urged him to keep his mouth shut. He has chosen to live up to his first name—which is Arabic for “brave”—and continue writing his blog in the face of government repression.

But his ordeal was not an unusual one for an Iraqi journalist, and most are not as determined to risk their lives to continue reporting.

Click here to read the full story.

By Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras, for Foreign Policy. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

A group of armed men wearing black uniforms stormed into my house in Baghdad and abducted me,” Iraqi blogger Shojaa Fares al-Khafaji told me a few days after his early-morning kidnapping by an Iraqi militia in October.

“They took me to a remote location overlooking the Tigris River and questioned me about my work, my family, and even my car. … They knew I have a blog and I am certain that was the main reason for my abduction.”

Khafaji’s captors ultimately released him, but urged him to keep his mouth shut. He has chosen to live up to his first name—which is Arabic for “brave”—and continue writing his blog in the face of government repression.

But his ordeal was not an unusual one for an Iraqi journalist, and most are not as determined to risk their lives to continue reporting.

Click here to read the full story.

Iraq’s media regulator should reverse its decision to order the closure of 12 broadcasters over a licensing dispute and should allow media outlets to freely cover protests in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Monday.

On November 12, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), Iraq’s media regulator, ordered the closure of eight television broadcasters and four radio stations for three months for allegedly violating media licensing rules, and issued a warning against five more broadcasters over their coverage of protests, according to a copy of the closure decision, which CPJ reviewed, and reports by local news organizations and press freedom groups.

According to the decision, the commission also renewed the closure of U.S.-funded broadcaster Al-Hurra for an additional three months. The outlet was shuttered on September 2 after it aired a report on alleged state corruption, as CPJ reported at the time.

The decision includes a recommendation to the prime minister’s office to send security forces to the outlets to force them to close. According to CPJ’s review of the outlets’ broadcasts, and an official with the media regulator who spoke to news website Arab News, none of the outlets have been closed as of November 25.

The outlets have critically covered the protests that have taken place throughout Iraq since October over a lack of basic services, unemployment, and government corruption, according to CPJ’s review of their broadcasts.

“Iraqi authorities are using all the means at their disposal, legal and otherwise, to intimidate outlets in an effort to prevent them from covering the ongoing protests in the country,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission to reverse this order and to allow TV broadcasters, radio stations, and journalists to do their jobs.”

The outlets listed in the decision are the Amman-based Dijlah TV and Anb TV, the Dubai-based Al-Sharqiya TV, the Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath, the U.S.-funded Radio Sawa, the Sulaymaniyah-based NRT News and Radio Nawa, and the Baghdad-based Al-Rasheed TV, Al-Fallujah, Hona Baghdad, Radio Al-Nas, and Radio Al-Youm.

The decision also issued a warning to five outlets to “adapt their discourse to the media broadcasting rules” or else face possible suspension: the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia, the Beirut-based Al-Sumaria, the Erbil-based Rudaw, and the Baghdad-based Asia TV and Ur TV.

The document recommends that the prime minister’s office approach representatives from the home countries of the foreign outlets listed in the decision, as well as the management of Egyptian satellite provider NileSat, to address the alleged violations.

Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

Amid the protests, unidentified gunmen raided the Baghdad offices of four broadcasters, and the Communications and Media Commission ordered Al-Dijlah TV’s transmissions into Iraq to be blocked and its offices shut down for allegedly failing to abide by professional standards, according to CPJ reporting.

(Source: CPJ)

Press Statement by US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo (pictured), on the situation in Iraq:

The United States welcomes any serious efforts made by the Government of Iraq to address the ongoing problems in Iraqi society. The Government of Iraq should listen to the legitimate demands made by the Iraqi people who have taken to the streets to have their voices heard.

The United States is closely monitoring the situation and from the beginning we have called on all sides to reject violence. The Government of Iraq’s investigation into the violence in early October lacked sufficient credibility and the Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice.

As the efforts announced by President Salih begin, the recently imposed severe restrictions on freedom of the press and of expression must be relaxed. Press freedom is inherent to democratic reform. The U.S. government continues to support Iraqi institutions, the Iraqi people, and Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty.

(Source: US State Dept)

Journalists injured and detained, broadcasters banned as protests resume in Iraq

On Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned recent attacks on journalists and media outlets in Iraq, and urged authorities to ensure that journalists can cover the ongoing protests in the country safely and without obstruction.

After a brief lull, anti-corruption and unemployment protests reignited in Iraq on October 24, and led to at least 74 deaths by October 27, according to news reports and a statement by the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

At least two journalists for local broadcaster Al-Sumaria TV have been injured in the latest wave of protests, one journalist was briefly detained, and two broadcasters have been banned, according to statements from the National Union of Journalists in Iraq and local press freedom organization Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq, as well as news reports.

“Iraqi authorities seem more focused on preventing journalists from doing their jobs than on protecting them from harm while they cover protests,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on Iraqi authorities to do all they can to ensure that journalists and news outlets can do their jobs freely and safely.”

On October 25, police fired a tear gas canister that hit Hisham Wassim, a reporter for Al-Sumaria TV, in the face while he was covering protests at Baghdad’s Jumhuriyya Bridge, according to the journalists’ union statement and reports by his employer.

Wassim was seriously injured by the grenade and was taken to Al-Kindi Hospital in Baghdad, according to those reports. On October 27, he was flown to Beirut for surgery, according to his employer. Zian, an Al-Sumaria employee who declined to provide their full name to CPJ, said via phone that Wassim is set to receive minor surgery on his face, but had not sustained any bone fractures.

On October 26, police fired a tear gas bomb that hit Ali Jassem, a camera operator for Al-Sumaria TV, in his right hand and abdomen with shrapnel while he was covering protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, according to his employer, the journalists’ union, and the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq.

Zian told CPJ that Jassem sustained light injuries and had gone back to work.

At 2:30 a.m. on October 27, a group of counter-terrorism agents stormed into the house of Hussein al-Amal, a reporter for the newspaper Al-Mada, in the southern Iraqi city of al-Nasiriyah and detained al-Amal, his son, and his nephew, according to the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq and Amir Hamid, a researcher for Al-Mada, who spoke to CPJ via email.

Agents took al-Amal and his family members to the Counter-Terrorism Directorate in al-Nasiriyah on allegations of participating in demonstrations, and released him and his nephew on bail a few hours later, according to a Facebook post by al-Amal. His son was released the following night, according to another post by al-Amal.

In a video posted to Facebook, al-Amal said he had gone to the protests as part of his work as a journalist. The day before his arrest, he had reported in Al-Mada on clashes between protesters and militias in al-Nasiriyah.

Iraqi authorities have also cracked down on news coverage of the protests. On October 24, the Iraqi Interior Ministry banned live coverage of the protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, according to news reports.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Brigadier General Khaled al-Muhanna was cited by the news website Nas News as saying that authorized journalists were allowed to interview protesters and record the protests, but not to broadcast them live.

On October 25, Iraq’s media regulator, the Communications and Media Committee, ordered the Amman-based Iraqi satellite broadcaster Al-Dijlah TV’s transmissions into Iraq to be blocked and its offices shut down for allegedly failing to abide by professional standards, according to news reports and the journalists’ union statement.

Al-Dijlah TV’s offices in Baghdad were ransacked and burned by unidentified armed assailants on October 5, as CPJ reported at the time.

Jamal Karbouli, leader of the Al-Hal Party and owner of Dijlah TV, said on Twitter that Dijlah TV had never violated professional standards, and said it covered Iraq truthfully.

“I prefer the closure of Dijlah TV and the stopping of its broadcast a thousand times over hiding the truth from Iraqis,” Karbouli said in his tweet.

On October 27, Iraqi police told Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya and its sister company Al-Hadath that the outlets were banned from operating in the country and urged theirs staffs to cease all journalistic work, citing a licensing issue, according to news reports and a report by Al-Arabiya.

CPJ emailed the Communications and Media Committee and the Iraqi Interior Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.

(Source: CPJ)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Civil society activists and journalists leave Baghdad in fear of being arrested

On Oct. 9, an Iraqi journalist left Baghdad for Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, after hearing that his name was on a list prepared by the Iraqi government for the arrest of journalists and civil society activists.

“I had to travel to Erbil until things calm down,” the journalist, who appeared on satellite television, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The government is launching a tight crackdown and arresting anyone who wrote, supported and spoke about the protests.”

He continued, “In Erbil also, the authorities arrest dissidents who criticize them or talk about corruption and freedoms, but this is a temporary stop for those like me who escaped the danger in Baghdad.”

Click here to read the full story.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests to which two investigative reporters have been subjected in different parts of Iraq in the past few days in connection with their coverage of corruption, and calls for an end to the harassment of these journalists.

The latest victim was Mostafa Hamed, a reporter based in Fallujah, in the western province of Al Anbar, where he works for the local TV channel Sharqeya. He was arrested at his home at 2 a.m. on 9 June by policemen who did not tell him what he was charged with, and was finally released today without being charged.

According to the information gathered by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), RSF’s partner NGO in Iraq, Hamed had been investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. Sharqeya is owned by Saad al Bazzaz, a local businessman and political rival of Al Anbar’s governor, who tried to get the TV channel closed last December.

The other recent victim is Hossam al Kaabi (pictured), a reporter based in Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad, who has repeatedly been harassed in connection with his coverage of an alleged corruption case involving the Najaf provincial airport’s former governing board.

What with money, women and threats, every kind of method has been used in an attempt to silence his reporting on the case, he said. The corruption case is however by no means a secret. He has also been the target of dozens of legal actions. The latest method was an arrest warrant, which resulted in his having to pay the large sum of 15 million dinars (10,745 euros) in bail to obtain his release on 6 June.

The warrant was the result of a complaint filed by Najaf airport’s former administration four days after Kaabi’s main media outlet, the NRT network’s Arabic-language channel, was forced to close for financial reasons. Defended by a consortium of lawyers, Kaabi told RSF he is concerned about the outcome because of the lack of judicial independence in Iraq.

“These two arrest warrants highlight the different kinds of difficulties for journalists in Iraq, which not only include being unjustly prosecuted but also the risk of seeing your work used for the purposes of the political rivalry,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The absurd proceedings against Hossam al Kaabi must be dropped and the authorities must do their duty to protect journalists who are the target of threats.”

As Kaabi points out on Facebook, in theory Iraqi law protects the right of journalists to seek information and sources. But in practice, as JFO has often reported, local officials act with impunity when they use judicial pressure and sometimes death threats to pressure journalists who investigate corruption.

Iraq is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

(Source: RSF)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

A group of war correspondents announced May 20 the formation of an association to defend the rights of war correspondents and journalists.

Association leader Mustafa Latif told NRT TV on May 20, “We will announce the formation of the association officially June 1 during a conference that will be held in Baghdad.”

Iraqi journalists who covered the battles against the Islamic State (IS) in recent years created their own association independent of the two syndicates of journalists in Iraq — the Iraq Journalists Syndicate and the National Union of Iraqi Journalists — and of the institutions that defend journalistic freedom.

War correspondents who were sent to the battlefronts to cover battles against IS over the past four years have formed the National Military Information Association, which will defend the rights of wounded and slain journalists who were not treated fairly by their media corporations during war coverage.

Mujahed Abu al-Hill, the head of the Iraqi Media Network, met with the constituent committee of the association May 2 and promised to help it become a platform documenting the achievements of correspondents who work for various Iraqi national media outlets and who covered Iraqi forces’ battles against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS. The Iraqi Media Network is an independent public organization in charge of a number of TV, radio and other media operations, including Al-Iraqiya TV.

The war correspondents association began forming a seven-member constituent committee in April and elected correspondent Ali Mtayar as president and his colleagues Latif and Ali Rashid as deputies. The group has 120 war correspondents as members.

Mtayar told Al-Monitor that governmental red tape is delaying necessary paperwork in the cases of slain and wounded journalists. “We want to put more pressure to help our colleagues who have sacrificed their lives to relay the truth to get their rights,” Mtayar said.

Latif said, “Our priority is to guarantee the rights of those killed and wounded from the media corporations where they worked.”

The association was established a year after the battles in the country ended and most war correspondents returned to peaceful cities to practice their profession. However, it seems that when some wounded journalists did not receive proper treatment and when some slain journalists’ families did not receive compensation, their colleagues decided to form a body to defend the rights of those affected.

The association will be part of civil society and will work in partnership with the Iraqi Media Network and the Iraq Journalists Syndicate. It will be registered with the nongovernmental association department affiliated with the general secretariat of the Iraqi Cabinet.

Before 2013 and the rise of extremist groups in western Iraq, the term “war correspondent” was not common. But it spread widely after IS took over Mosul in June 2014 and media teams began accompanying governmental forces to battlefronts.

Iraq is among the most dangerous journalistic environments in the world, and in recent years many local and foreign journalists have been killed in the country.

Iraq lost 50 local journalists over four years at battlefronts, and more than 100 journalists were wounded. Some of them still are suffering from critical injuries. Investigative reports have shown that some war correspondents were sent to battlefronts under unprofessional conditions in terms of their safety and without social security coverage in what is being called a violation of their rights.

Members of the association said its formation was long overdue. They blamed the delay on the intervention of governmental groups.

Constituent committee Haidar Shakour told Al-Monitor, “The disbanded Military Information Cell that was affiliated with the premiership pressured war correspondents and discriminated against them to control the news and military correspondence. This is one of the reasons the formation of the association was delayed, but we have managed to be independent and form our own entity.”

The association put in place an annual work plan related to several issues, including training Iraqi journalists on covering conflict zones and on professional safety. Projects related to how the media cover the military and journalists’ role in helping societies receive news during war are to be carried out.

The association is compiling cases of journalists who were killed and wounded in battles but where proper compensation was not provided. The cases will be submitted to the Iraqi government in cooperation with the Iraq Journalists’ Syndicate. A program in coordination with the government is also planned in order for those suffering from major injuries to be treated outside Iraq.

The war correspondents association is not directly funded by any governmental or nongovernmental party. But the Iraqi Media Network made promises to offer it some logistical aid to provide headquarters and office stationery for its members.

Amal Sakr, vice president of the National Union of Iraqi Journalists, told Al-Monitor, “I believe this association is not necessary. It is an addition to the list of other associations that offered journalists nothing.”

Sakr said legislation in parliament guaranteeing rights of journalists is more important than an abundance of associations raising the banner of defending journalists.