Beirut, November 9, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Iraqi authorities to release freelance journalist and political commentator Samir Obeid immediately.
Iraqi armed forces from the 54th brigade arrested Obeid at his Baghdad home on October 22, according to the local press freedom groups the Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech and the Iraq Observatory for Press Freedoms. The arrest came a day after Obeid published an article to his Facebook page, which has over 24,000 followers, that was critical of Iraq's prime minister.
On October 26, Baghdad's Al-Sa'a Court charged Obeid with spreading rumors and fake news and misleading public opinion in accordance with Article 210 of the Iraqi penal code, according to a post that Obeid's brother, Hassan Obeid Hassan, published on his Facebook page.
"Iraqi journalists are already reporting in some of the most dangerous conditions worldwide. The Iraqi government should not compound their difficulties by arresting journalists like Samir Obeid for critical reporting," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington D.C. "Iraqi authorities must immediately release Obeid and allow journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal."
According to the brother, bail conditions were met and Obeid was expected to be released on October 30, but he remained in detention. On November 8, authorities referred Obeid's case to a criminal court and charged the journalist with communicating with foreign parties in accordance with Article 164 of the Iraqi penal code, Hassan told CPJ.
Obeid has been held at Baghdad's Al-Muthanna Air Base.
According to Hassan, neither Obeid's family nor lawyer has been able to contact the journalist since his arrest.
In his article, published on October 21, Obeid wrote that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi used the country's armed forces to retake Kirkuk so that foreign oil companies that helped al-Abadi become prime minister-- most notably the British-owned oil company British Petroleum-- could gain control of the oil fields in Kirkuk. According to BP estimates, the Kirkuk fields hold 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
Hassan told CPJ that his brother's arrest was in retribution for this article and that the charges against Obeid are false and unfounded.
The Iraqi Prime Minister's office did not immediately reply to CPJ's request for comment.
The second charge, for communicating with foreign parties, is based on Obeid's guest appearances on the Al-Jazeera program "Opposite Directions," Hassan wrote in a Facebook post. He wrote that Iraqi authorities consider the Qatari-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera to be allied with foreign countries that plan to overthrow their government. CPJ was unable to verify Hassan's explanation of the charges.
Obeid was a frequent critic of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and lived in exile in Norway until 2014 when he returned to Baghdad.
Obeid has regularly appeared as an expert and commentator on television channels including Tigris TV, ANB, and NRT, and has provided analysis on Iraqi political issues including the implications of the Kurdish independence referendum and the Iraqi government's decision to award the U.S. firm Blackwater a contract to protect the Trebil section of the Iraq-Jordan border crossing.
Obeid posted opinion pieces and articles on the ongoing dispute between the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and the Iraqi government to his Facebook page following the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, 2017.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This alert has been updated to correct the spelling of Hassan Obeid Hassan's name and to clarify that he is Samir Obeid's brother.]