By John Lee.

Iraq is reportedly considering banning several popular video games over fears that they encourage violence and crime.

MP Sami’a Ghulab, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Information, Tourism, and Archaeology, is quoted as saying that games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) are “affecting the social, psychological and educational level of everyone [who plays them]“.

According to The Independent, the MP provided no evidence for this alleged damage, nor any details about how the ban would be enforced. The newspaper also cites a recent study from the University of Oxford which suggests that links between violent video games and real-world violence have been overblown.

The National reports that Iraq’s 2005 constitution enshrines press freedom unless they “violate public order or morality.”

(Source: The Independent, The National)

A new cybercrimes law that would impose heavy prison sentences and hefty fines against peaceful critics who express themselves online would be a devastating setback for freedom of expression in Iraq, Amnesty International has said.

The organization has highlighted its serious concern over the draft “Law on Information Technology Crimes” in an open letter signed by nine other NGOs. The letter was submitted to the Iraqi authorities this morning and warns that the proposed law would “establish a climate of self-censorship in the country.

If passed, this draconian cybercrime law will be a devastating blow for freedom of expression in Iraq. The vague and overly broad wording of the law means it could easily become a tool for repression in a country where the space for critical voices is already severely restricted,” said Razaw Salihy, Iraq researcher at Amnesty International.

More here.

(Source: Amnesty International)

By John Lee.

An Iraqi government block on internet access is reportedly costing the country $40 million per day in lost business, sales and opportunities.

The estimate is from the COST tool, based on the Brookings Institution economic impact methodology for internet shutdowns, using data collected by the NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory in collaboration with volunteers across Iraq.

Internet restrictions that have been implemented in an attempt to suppress the recent protests across the country.

According to Amnesty International, the internet was cut to stop protesters posting images of security force attacks.

(Source: NetBlocks)

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.

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Literary cafes, poetry readings and pavement bookstalls — Mosul’s cultural scene is back in business, months after Iraqi forces ousted the Islamic State group from the city following three years of jihadist rule.

View on YouTube

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has denounced the multiple media freedom violations in the Iraqi Kurdistan region documented in a new report by IFJ affiliate the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate.

The 2017 annual report of media freedom violations, published by the KJS’ Committee for the Defense of Press Freedom & Rights of Journalists, reveals that as the intensity of the rivalry between political parties increases, incidence of violations against journalists and media organisations also increase as they face revenge by the belligerents.

Several media have been blocked during and after the referendum in the Kurdistan region to secede from Iraq and especially during the follow up military campaign by the Iraqi central government to regain control over Karkuk and other areas controlled by Kurdish forces.

Turkey and Iran also closed down offices of media organizations seen as promoting the vote for independence while the Kurdistan regional government closed down (a) TV channel(s) which took an anti-independence editorial line.

Four journalists were killed in the region in 2017, 30 journalists were arrested, 5 were wounded, 39 suffered from physical attacks, 111 were restrained and 18 were threatened. In addition, 3 media houses were burned down and 13 channels were shut down.

“The IFJ condemns all the attacks documented by our affiliate against our colleagues in the region and urges the various parties to stop using the media in their political fights,” said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger. “Both the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi central government must take immediate steps to show that they are serious about fighting impunity in the attacks against journalists in Iraq.”

For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16

(Source: IFJ)

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

During Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to the southern city of Najaf on Jan. 7, his bodyguards attacked a group of journalists, causing them physical harm. Abadi’s office launched an investigation into the incident, which was welcomed by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate.

“The syndicate is following up on the investigations and their results and is legally prosecuting the aggressors, as this is one of its core duties. These attacks intimidate journalists and prevent them from doing their job, which is to inform the public,” Muayed al-Lami, the head of the syndicate, told Al-Monitor.

This was not an isolated incident, as violent behavior by the bodyguards of politicians against journalists is a common occurrence. One such attack took place in July 2017, when a team of journalists from Al-Mousiliya TV station was attacked by the security guards of the governor of Mosul. The bodyguards also confiscated the journalists’ equipment. This incident was condemned by the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.

On Aug. 5, 2017, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory reported that journalists in central Baghdad had been beaten by members of the internal security forces. In March, Abadi’s security team severely beat a journalist at the gate of the Green Zone, near the government headquarters, with dozens of passersby present.

The Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech documented Jan. 1 the first attack in 2018 on a journalist in Dhi Qar governorate, who was assaulted by internal security officers while covering the New Year’s celebrations.

In 2017, the number of journalists subjected to assault had reached 200 by Dec. 26; some were threatened, others beaten, arrested without a warrant, murdered or they had their equipment confiscated and had been tried for their publications.

These flagrant numbers prompted Hammam Hammoudi, the first deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, to call in May 2017 for the implementation of the law to protect journalists, which would guarantee freedom of expression, urging the government to “preserve their safety.”

This law provides for the protection of journalists against any assault and for punishing anyone “who would assault journalists on duty.” However, according to legal expert Tariq Harb, this law is contradicted in the provisions of the Iraqi penal code of 1969. The law provides for a life sentence and confiscation of funds for those who are charged with insulting the president or any other political figure. “Anyone can interpret an article or some news as an insult,” Harb told Al-Monitor.

He said, “As per the law on the protection of the rights of journalists, the latter are considered to be affiliated with a public office, even if they work outside government institutions. Thus, any assault of this kind is considered against employees who are on duty. The attack by bodyguards on journalists is also considered a crime of general right, which can only be waived after implementing punitive measures against the aggressor. These laws remain words without actions in most cases.”

The head of the media office of Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, author and journalist Hisham al-Rikabi, told Al-Monitor, “Attacks by bodyguards and security members are not new in Iraq. Several journalists, reporters and their team members have been killed and many sustained various injuries since the entry of the US forces into Iraq in 2003.”

He added, “The violence continues. The lives of journalists in Iraq will remain at risk until security and legal measures are enforced.”

In regard to the first steps to be taken to protect the lives of journalists, Rikabi said, “Impartial, independent and transparent investigations into the attacks against journalists must be conducted with the participation of the judiciary and civil society. The outcomes must be published for the public to see in tandem with taking appropriate measures to prevent their recurrence.”

Writer and journalist Ali Daneef, who heads the investigations section at the quasi-governmental newspaper Al-Sabah, has a more objective point of view. He told Al-Monitor, “Attacks are repeated, and both parties have yet to learn their lesson. Officials have yet to instruct their security teams to respect the media. Also, media figures and outlets are still adopting provocative positions.”

Daneef added, “Some media figures have exploited these attacks to gain fame, which is a premeditated act. Protection and security teams of official figures often take the blame. But sometimes media figures cross the line and violate some constants or work ethics.”

Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, blames security and protections teams. He told Al-Monitor, “They do not respect human rights and exhibit a violent behavior toward journalists. The law ratified by parliament has yet to be enforced to deter such attacks and hold perpetrators accountable.”

He continued, “The prevailing practice in cases of assault on journalists is that routine procedures are followed with no results. The journalist who is the victim is often blamed, while the aggressor goes unpunished. Moral and ethical codes of conduct must be drafted to regulate the relations between the media and the security teams that respect the rights of each party. Impartial laws ensuring justice should be implemented to deter such attacks.”

(Photo credit: Josh Hallett)

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. 

The Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is seeking to penalize people for the hate speech prevalent in Iraqi society by arresting anyone who expresses such ideas or promotes slogans that insult former or current religious and social figures.

Each year around this time, millions of Shiite Muslims make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala for the festival of Arbaeen. People observing Arbaeen sometimes raise banners and shout slogans insulting Sunni figures. In the past, these people were met with public indignation — but not legal measures.

Wahab al-Tai, the interior minister’s media adviser, told Al-Monitor in an interview, “Up until Nov. 8, the ministry had arrested 76 people who were caught promoting sectarianism. Out of the 76 arrested, 25 were in Karbala and 51 in Babil [province]. Most were Iraqis, but some foreigners were arrested as well.”

The Interior Ministry was reacting to a video that has been circulating. The video, taken in Karbala during the festival, shows a group of followers of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi — a group known for promoting hateful speech toward important Sunni religious figures. The video shows a young man with a loudspeaker cursing Umar ibn al-Khattab, a senior companion of the Prophet Muhammad considered sacred by Sunnis. Despite all the arrests, that man is still on the loose.

Only two days after appearing in the first video, the same man appeared in another video saying that he was only “expressing his opinion.”

The ministry’s measures against promoters of sectarianism received both political and public support. Sayyid Ahmad al-Safi, the representative of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf, applauded the move in his Friday sermon in Karbala on Nov. 10.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the murder of a Kurdistan TV cameraman near Kirkuk and the previous day’s violence against media personnel by demonstrators in Erbil. The two separate incidents in the space of a few hours point to an alarming decline in the security of journalists in northern Iraq.

The cameraman, Arkan Shareef, was stabbed to death in his home in Daquq, 60 km south of Kirkuk, at around 3 a.m. yesterday by masked intruders while his family was shut in another room. The motives for the murder are not known.

Aged 50 and the father of three children, Abdullah had worked since 2004 for Kurdistan TV, which is affiliated to Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He was also a primary school teacher in a nearby village.

We condemn this murder and called for a prompt and impartial investigation by the Iraqi authorities with the aim of identifying the perpetrators and their motives,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

The current political differences in this part of the world must not blind us to an unacceptable reality, namely crimes of violence against civilians and, in this case, the cold-blooded murder of a journalist.”

In a statement condemning Abdullah’s murder, Kurdistan TV said it was one of a spate of serious acts of violence against civilians, especially Kurds, and that it confirmed the lack of security in areas seized in recent days by the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitary forces (Hashd al-Shaabi).

When reached by RSF, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s foreign affairs department, Falah Mustafa, also spoke of the many human rights violations against civilians, especially journalists, since the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitaries pushed into the disputed territories.

Harassment of Kurdish media

Pro-KDP Kurdish media have been affected by the tension between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad. On 23 October, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) ordered the suspension of two pro-KDP Kurdish TV channels, Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24, claiming that they lacked licences and had been broadcasting reports that incited violence and hatred.