Reporters Without Borders condemns the many cases of threats and physical violence against journalists covering the wave anti-corruption protests that have swept much of Iraq, from the south to the centre and the capital, for the past two and a half months.
The aim of the violence against media personnel, by unidentified individuals or local officials, has been to limit coverage of the protests and discourage demonstrators. “The Iraqi authorities have a duty to ensure that journalists are free to work without being harassed by anyone, whether local officials or unidentified persons,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk. “The authorities must conduct thorough and impartial investigations with the aim of prosecuting those responsible for threats of physical attacks against journalists, and thereby combat impunity.” According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), some of these assailants said they belonged to Shiite militias linked to Popular Mobilization, a mainly Shiite paramilitary force. A Popular Mobilization spokesman nonetheless denied this, leaving their affiliation unclear. The threats and violence against media personnel have been condemned by the Basra Journalists Syndicate and by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Reporters Without Borders has registered more than 20 cases, ranging for telephone threats to physical attacks. In a statement on 4 October, the Skypress online news service said its employees had repeatedly been the targets of threats by telephone and in the streets because of their coverage of anti-corruption demonstrations. Sharqiyya News sports reporter Ziad Mohamed Hussein received death threats in September for doing a report about corruption in the sports sector. Many journalists sent to cover the constant demonstrations in Baghdad have found themselves being attacked. In August, men in civilian dress smashed or confiscated the equipment of Al-Baghdadia, Mada and Al-Sharqiyya TV crews while the police looked on without intervening. Hona Baghdad TV reporter Ahmed Al Abdi and his crew were trying to film a demonstration in the holy city of Karbala on 15 August when their equipment was seized. Abdi said individuals threatened them and then used force to take their equipment. Journalists who condemn the violence against their colleagues have themselves been threatened. Haidar Al Mansoori, the head of the Basra Journalists Syndicate, has received several death threats since announcing in August that the union supported journalists covering the protests. The wave of street protests against corruption began on 31 July. Demonstrators continue to demand an overhaul of the judicial system despite the adoption on 11 August of reforms designed to combat corruption. Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.