Iraqi journalists accused of stealing notebook released

Three Iraqi journalists were released on bail June 20, 2013, after being held for two weeks by the Ministry of Defense for purportedly stealing an official’s notebook.

Mohammed Fouad, a photographer for the independent satellite channel ANB, and his assistant, Afdhel Jumaa, were released on bail of one million Iraqi dinars (approximately US$850) each, Fouad told CPJ. A third journalist, Abdel Qader al-Saady, who also works as an official for the Ministry of Culture, was released the same day. News reports said al-Saady worked as the director for the ANB’s Iraq office, but ANB’s General Manager Mohammed al-Adaileh told CPJ he was a reporter who ended his relationship with the channel two weeks before his arrest.

The journalists were accused of stealing a notebook belonging to Saadoun al-Dulaimi, who serves as both the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Culture, during a high-level meeting between government officials on June 1, 2013. The journalists denied stealing the notebook and said they had given it to al-Saady to return to al-Dulaimi. When the journalists were called in to the Ministry of Defense to return the notebook on June 4, they were arrested.

The Iraqi Journalists Syndicate released a statement on June 20, 2013, saying that al-Dulaimi had dropped the complaint against the journalists after extensive discussion between the syndicate and the Ministry of Defense.

The government can still prosecute the journalists even if al-Dulaimi does not press charges, according to Oday Hatem, the president of the Society for the Defense of Press Freedom in Iraq. It is not clear what exact charges the journalists would face or if the court will convene a trial. Fouad told CPJ he had yet to be contacted about any further legal action.

Fouad told CPJ that the journalists were held separately at the Muthanna Airport detention facility in small cells shared by other prisoners, including common criminals. Interrogators insulted Fouad during interrogations and denied him food. The extended detention without charge or access to lawyers violated Article 19 of the Iraqi Constitution, which requires authorities to submit a warrant to a judge within 24 hours of an arrest.