Iraqi journalists harassed covering provincial elections

New York, January 29, 2009Journalists in at least three Iraqi cities were harassed on Wednesday as police, soldiers, prisoners, some government employees, and displaced persons kicked off the early voting phase of Iraq’s provincial councils elections, according to local and international news reports and journalists who spoke to CPJ. 

In the southern city of Basra around 15 Iraqi reporters working for local and international news agencies gathered in front of Mina Prison in anticipation of the 7 a.m. opening of a polling station inside the correctional facility. As soon as the doors opened and cameras began filming, prison guards assaulted the reporters and broke equipment, local and international news agencies reported. The guards accused camera operators and photographers of filming and taking pictures of the faces of the inmates, according to news reports.

“The presence of journalists outside polling stations is necessary to report on the voting process,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle ‎East and North Africa program coordinator. “The Iraqi government must ensure that the army and police allow journalists to operate freely as long as they are not compromising the electoral process.”

Harassment and intimidation against reporters were also reported in Fallujah where journalists were prevented from entering polling stations despite having accreditation from the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI), according to the Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and local journalists who spoke to CPJ.

A journalist working for a U.S.-based newspaper in Fallujah told CPJ that Iraqi soldiers prevented journalists from entering Al-Jumhuriyya School, a polling station. Reporters were allowed to enter the building four hours later, but only after the IECI intervened, said the journalist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

In Hilla, the capital of Babil province, police prevented eight journalists from entering a polling station inside the city’s main hospital, according to two local reporters. After waiting for more than four hours, IECI officials allowed only two journalists, one working for the state-run Al-Iraqiya and another for the U.S.-funded Al-Hurra channel into the voting center out of a larger group, the journalists told CPJ. Only those two journalists had accreditations.