Even more dangerous for journalists
Iraqi journalists risk their lives when they cover protests or investigate corruption, and the dangers have grown since the start of an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests in October 2019. Journalists who dare to report the demands of the protesters are liable to be harassed, abducted, physically attacked or even killed by unidentified militias. The threats come from all quarters and are designed to deter journalists from investigating or publishing the fruits of their research. Coverage of political or religious figures still regarded as untouchable can lead to prosecution or to media bans for disrespecting “national or religious symbols”. Murders of journalists go unpunished because they are not investigated or, if there is an investigation, it goes nowhere, relatives say. The state’s powerlessness increases the dangers and makes it impossible to determine whether what the many militias are doing suits the government, whether the government has given them the go-ahead, or whether it has no control over the situation. The authorities have, however, banned live reporting from the protests, disconnected the Internet and, in a decision taken by the Media Regulation Commission, banned ten media outlets from covering the protests. Journalists are also worried about a cyber-crime bill that keeps being resubmitted. It provides for prison sentences (including life imprisonment) for online posts that endanger “the independence, unity or integrity of the country, or its economic, political, military or security interests”. The vagueness of this wording is alarming and liable to discourage the emergence of a truly free and independent press. In northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, there seems to be virtually no limits to the persecution of journalists who criticise its ruling families. They are jailed on charges of spying or endangering state security on the basis of confessions extracted under torture or by means of threats. Some journalists in the region have died in unclear circumstances, and the suspicion that the authorities were responsible is reinforced by the lack of any serious investigation into their deaths.
162 in 2020
55.37 in 2020