Iraq : Coronavirus reporting triggers spate of defamation cases

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by a resurgence of criminal defamation prosecutions of reporters and bloggers who have criticized the Iraqi authorities’ handling of the coronavirus crisis. At least six are facing the possibility of imprisonment in cases brought in the past few weeks. RSF urges the authorities to let reporters use the freedom to inform.

At least four bloggers based in the northern city of Mosul – Rayan Al-Hadidi, Muhanad Al-Omarey, Saher Al-Dalimi and Saker Al-Zakaria – learned that a warrant for their arrests was issued on 5 November in response to a defamation complaint brought by the health authorities of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital. Al-Dalimi and Al-Zakaria were summoned before a Mosul court on 16 November and were released on bail.

These bloggers had openly criticized the authorities in recent weeks over the lack of medical resources to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. Al-Dalimi, in particular, had filmed himself inside a Mosul hospital in September to show the scale of the crisis.

Saif Alkrawee, a freelance journalist based in Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad, is the target of a defamation complaint by the manager of a blood bank over video in July in which Alkrawee exposed the misuse of blood donations in the region. Alkrawee told RSF that he produced official documents to prove his allegations. He has nonetheless been summoned to appear on 22 November before a criminal court in the Kufa district of Najaf.

“This resurgence of prosecutions of Iraqi journalists is very worrying,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The Iraqi authorities must stop using criminal defamation proceedings to prevent journalists from voicing any criticism during this public health crisis, a precarious time when access to information is crucial.”

The coronavirus crisis is not the only subject that has elicited defamation complaints in recent weeks. Suadad Al-Salhy, a Baghdad-based reporter for the Middle East Eye news website, learned on 22 October that a warrant had been issued for her arrest over an article referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

And Bahroz Jafar, a journalist based in Sulaymaniyah, in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, was jailed for a week in late September for an article he wrote for the Peyser Press website in which he allegedly defamed Iraqi President Barham Saleh.

Iraq is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 18.11.2020