Authorities close RT bureau in Baghdad, new TV station in Sulaymaniyah
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the unjustified closures of two TV stations in raids in Iraq in the past two days – one in the capital and the other in the autonomous Kurdish region in the north of the country – and calls for both to be allowed to resume operating in order to reverse these latest setbacks to press freedom in Iraq.
Yesterday’s raid in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah was carried out by security forces affiliated to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which shares control of the Kurdistan Regional Government with Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The target of their raid was the headquarters of iPlus, a new TV channel that was in its final trial phase and was due to begin officially broadcasting within a few days. It is owned by PUK co-president Lahur Talabany, whose relations with PUK leader Bafel Talabany, his cousin, have been marked by growing friction of late.
According to the Metro Center website, the raid was carried out by around 50 masked men, who smashed equipment and detained and beat some of the journalists before expelling all the employees and closing the premises.
On 13 July, security forces raided and closed the Baghdad bureau of RT (the former Russia Today), confiscating equipment and briefly detaining Ashraf Al-Azzawi, the Baghdad correspondent of RT’s Arabic channel. Before he was released, RT reported that he had been taken to an unknown location because his work permit had expired. The authorities have so far given no explanation for the raid and closure of the bureau.
“We call for the immediate reopening of RT’s bureau in Baghdad and iPlus in Sulaymaniyah,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “It is unacceptable for media outlets to be closed at any time without prior warning and for their employees to be detained without valid reason, and even beaten by security forces.”
This is not the first time that TV channels have been targeted by the authorities in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2019, Iraq’s Communications and Media Commission closed the US-funded Arabic-language TV channel Alhurra for broadcasting a report about corruption within Iraq’s religious institutions. And in 2020, the Kurdistan Regional Government announced that it was taking steps to ban the Kurdish TV channel NRT.
Iraq is ranked 163rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.