By John Lee.

As decades of war and occupation come to an end, Iraqis are confronting their new era head on. A massive wave of protests across the country demanding an end to corruption and respect for human rights toppled the government in 2019.

With a new prime minister in place who speaks directly to many of the protesters’ concerns, there is some hope the government may finally address some of these issues.

But as space for such conversation opens, it is unclear whether the new government will be able to address an ongoing campaign by many authorities to silence critics, with journalists and activists facing violence, harassment, and prosecution for simply speaking out.

Paul Aufiero talks with senior researcher Belkis Wille about her new report on the threat to free speech in Iraq and what this important moment means for the country.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

By John Lee.

A spike in violations of the right to free expression during widespread protests at the end of the former government’s term in office and during the Covid-19 pandemic underscores the need for Iraq’s new government to reform its laws, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Monday.

Iraqi authorities, including in the Kurdistan Region, have routinely used vaguely worded laws to bring criminal charges against people who express opinions they dislike.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

By John Lee.

Iraq has fallen in the World Press Freedom Index for 2020, ranking 162nd out of 180 countries, down six place on last year.

The result puts Iraq behind countries such as Turkey and Sudan, but ahead of Iran and Libya. First place went to Norway, with North Korea coming last.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB, RSF), which publishes the annual study, said:

The worsening conditions for journalists in Iraq since protests erupted in 2019 has put the country among those coloured black in the Index’s world map, which signifies “very serious”.

“Five journalists have been killed in just four months. The various militias at large in the country constantly threaten the lives of journalists in an effort to prevent them covering the protests, repeating the allegations and also demonstrating the same ferocity as the police, who use live ammunition.        

“The Iraqi government itself plays a full part in obstructing journalists. At least 10 news organizations have been suspended for covering the demonstrations in a manner deemed unfavourable by the authorities. Since the start of the health crisis, the authorities have been focusing on reports about the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Communications and Media Commission (CMC) decided to suspend the news agency Reuters for publishing a story that quoted three unidentified doctors as saying they had been ordered not to talk to the media about the crisis. The autonomous region of Kurdistan is also in the firing line.

“The health ministry ordered the closure of the television channel NRT after it broadcast a report that the authorities had deliberately overestimated the number of people infected in order to discourage people from demonstrating.

More details here.

(Source: Reporters Without Borders)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission (CMC) has reportedly lifted its suspension of Reuters‘ licence to work in the country.

The regulator had revoked the licence for three months and imposed a fine of 25 million dinars ($21,000) for what it said was the news agency’s violation of the rules of media broadcasting.

The case related to a story saying the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was higher than officially reported.

(Source: Reuters)

By John Lee.

Reuters has confirmed that Iraq’s media regulator has suspended its licence after the news agency published a story saying the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country was higher than officially reported.

The Communications and Media Commission (CMC) said it was revoking the licence for three months and imposing a fine of 25 million dinars ($21,000) for what it said was the agency’s violation of the rules of media broadcasting.

Reuters said it stood by the story.

In an interview, Iraqi President Barham Salih told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he regarded the CMC’s decision as “regretable“, but added that “the Reuters report … implied a deliberate falsification of records by the government. WHO and the United Nations agencies [said] that was absolutely not the case.

He said:

“I’m working together with our legal team in order to revoke that and manage the situation. I agree with you. This is not conducive to what we want to be, a transparent environment.”

(Sources: Reuters, CNN)

Iraqi regulator suspends Reuters’ license for 3 months over COVID-19 report

Iraqi authorities should immediately reinstate the license of the Reuters news agency, and allow all media outlets to cover the COVID-19 pandemic freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), Iraq’s media regulator, suspended Reuters’ license for three months and fined it 25 million Iraqi dinars ($21,000) for a news report published the same day, which alleged that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country are much higher than official statistics, according to a statement from the regulator and news reports.

In its statement, the regulator accused Reuters of relying on vague and untrue sources to fabricate news about pandemic in Iraq, and accused Reuters of endangering public safety and hindering the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. It also urged Reuters to issue a public apology to the government and the Iraqi people.

CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado, said:

If Iraq’s media regulator continues to suspend media outlets critical of the authorities, soon there won’t be any outlet left in Iraq at a time when the flow of news is vital to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

“We call on Iraq´s media regulator to restore Reuters’ license and allow its staff to do their jobs freely and without fear of reprisal.

The Reuters report cited three doctors involved in the COVID-19 testing process, a health ministry official, and a senior political official, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because medical staff have been instructed not to speak to the media. Those sources alleged that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was thousands higher than the official count of 772.

After the report was published, the Iraqi government on its official Twitter account criticized “some news agencies” for falsely claiming that the numbers disclosed by authorities were inaccurate.

In a statement sent to CPJ via messaging app, Reuters said it had not received any notification from Iraqi authorities regarding the license and was seeking clarification on the matter. The news agency said it stands by the story.

Iraq has also suspended the printing and distribution of newspapers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to news reports. Yemen, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, and Iran have similarly banned newspapers, as CPJ has documented.

On April 1, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission issued a series of new regulations restricting the movement and work of journalists and media outlets, forcing radio stations and broadcasters to reduce their staff to a minimum, requiring journalists and media workers to wear protective gear, and providing the Joint Operations Command and the Baghdad Operations Command with a list of licensed radio stations and broadcasters, according to news reports and the local press freedom group the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq.

The Media and Communications Commission did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email and social media.

(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.

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.