Iraqi security forces attack reporters covering protests
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the many attacks on journalists by security forces during the past three days of anti-corruption protests in Iraq. They constitute a disproportionate and unwarranted restriction of the right to inform, RSF said.
Reporters for at least 14 media outlets have been the targets of these attacks, which began on 1 October, the days the protests suddenly erupted, and have taken place throughout the country.
Members of several TV crews were injured in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square on 1 October when they tried to film demonstrators being driven back by teargas. “Coverage of demonstrations is very difficult and different from the usual coverage of events because the crackdown on the protesters automatically affects the journalists,” Dijlah TV’s Mazen Alwan told Iraq’s National Union of Journalists.
While covering a demonstration on 2 October in Tayeran Square, another prominent Baghdad location, Al Rasheed TV’s Arshad Al-Hakem was arrested by police and was held for held for several hours. Two other journalists, Ahmed Al-Rekabee and Ali Fadhel, were also detained. The provincial council in neighbouring Al-Anbar province meanwhile issued an order banning “all media activity.”
“This reaction against journalists by the authorities is disproportionate and unjustified,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Instead of banning all journalistic activities, the security forces and local authorities have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists so that they can do their reporting.”
In Diwaniyah, 180 km south of Baghdad, several sources reported that a special forces unit prevented journalists from working. A video shows Dijlah TV reporter Zaid Al-Fatlawi being grabbed and hit by this unit while others intervened. “He’s a journalist!” someone can be heard saying. The video ends when a soldier put his hand over the lens and orders the person filming to stop.
The authorities have blocked access to various social networks including Facebook and WhatsApp since 2 October, the second day of the protests, but Iraqis continue to disseminate information about the protests by using servers that allow them to circumvent the blocking.
Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.