Reporters Without Borders urged the Iraqi government today to allow journalists to do their job freely and to make every effort to ensure their physical safety after what it called “one of the blackest days for media freedom” in the country since US combat troops left last August.
Journalists were “attacked and illegally and summarily arrested” by police and soldiers who were “supposed to protect them” during demonstrations to mark the 25 February “day of rage” in many cities, including Baghdad, Karbala, Mosul and Basra, the organisation’s secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, said.
He urged the government to investigate all the abuses and punish those responsible as a matter of course.
The army had two days earlier banned the live televising of the Baghdad protest. (http://en.rsf.org/iraq-authorities-prohibit-live-24-02-2011,39626.html)
Police sealed off Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, where the city’s demonstration took place, and helicopters were used to help block access.
- Cameramen from Al-Baghdadiya and d’Al-Sharqiya were arrested while filming security forces firing assault weapons and using tear gas to disperse protesters.
- A cameraman from the satellite TV station Faiha injured his hand when he was attacked by security forces.
- Journalist Seif Al-Khayat was run over by a police car.
- Police raided and searched the premises of the TV station Al-Diyar, which was covering the demonstrations from the roof of its building. Reporter Ali Al-’Ainbaki and nine technicians were arrested and the station went off the air.
- Two journalists from the satellite TV station Al-Sumariya, Idris Jawad and Sanan Adnan, along with cameramen Satar Muhammed Abdul and Safa Hatem, were arrested after reporting on the protest. They were accused of participating in and helping to organise it and were held for several hours at the Al-Rusafa operations centre (eastern Baghdad).
- Thaier Al-Sudani, a Reuters photographer, and Ahmad Al-Rubaie, of Agence France-Presse, were also arrested.
- Cameraman Imed Hamed, of satellite TV station Al-Hurra, and his assistant Mustafa Kazem were arrested by riot police in Baghdad and their cameras and recordings seized.
- After the demonstration, agents of the 11th intelligence police division burst into the Al-Taraf restaurant in central Baghdad and arrested four journalists – Hussam Serail (a reporter with Al-Sabah), Ali Abdul Sada (Al-Mada), Hadi Al-Mahdi (a presenter with Radio Demozy) and Ali Sumerian (of Al-Sabah). They were insulted and punched and then taken to division headquarters at the former defence ministry building. They were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened for several hours before being released.
In Karbala, Reuters correspondent Mushtaq Muhammad was hospitalised with serious head injuries after a policeman clubbed him while he filmed the protests. His camera was destroyed. The provincial chief minister apologised to him and the news agency after investigating the incident. The journalist called for an example to be made of the policeman to ensure such an incident did not happen again.
Riot police in Karbala also beat and insulted crews from TV stations Afaq TV and Al-Salam TV and seized their recordings.
Reporter Ahmed Hiyali, of Radio Sawa, was badly beaten by a special police unit in Mosul and prevented from covering the protests there. A colleague, Adel Sayegh, of the TV station Al-Salah A-Din, said Hiyali was repeatedly hit before being taken to the provincial assembly building.
Soldiers confiscated cameras and recordings from several journalists covering the protests in Basra. Radio Dijla reporter Mohammed Al-Jabri was insulted and also beaten with a rifle butt.
The journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi, famous for throwing a shoe at US President George Bush in 2008, was arrested on 24 February while trying to hold a press conference in front of the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah neighbourhood. He was subsequently released.
A total of 23 journalists jointly announced on 27 February they would boycott the offices of prime minister Nuri-Al-Maliki and the Baghdad military commander in protest against the violence against journalists by the security forces and their arbitrary attempts to prevent coverage of the demonstrations. In an open letter, they demanded official apologies and an immediate halt to attacks on the media.
Gen. Qassem Atta, spokesman for the Baghdad military chief, duly apologised and said the attacks on freedom of expression were “unintentional.” In response to a question from a cameraman with the satellite TV station Turkmen Illy during a news conference yesterday, Prime Minister Maliki apologized to journalists for the violence used by the security forces and promised both sanctions and reforms.
Mohammed Al-Hamdani, a correspondent for the satellite TV station Al-Itijah, was meanwhile killed in a suicide bombing in Ramadi, the capital of Al-Anbar province (110 km west of Baghdad) on 24 February. Ahmed Abdul Salam, a journalist working for the satellite TV station Al-Aan, was wounded by the same explosion. The bombing was at the House of Culture in the neighbourhood known as 17 Tammuz, where a religious festivity was being held. The overall toll was 14 dead and 23 wounded, including the journalists covering the event.