Beirut, February 6, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the arrest of Iraqi freelance journalist and political commentator Samir Obeid and called on Iraqi authorities to release him immediately.
Men who identified themselves as Iraqi security forces arrested Obeid at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad on February 2 while he was on his way to visit relatives in the south-central city of Najaf, according to news reports and the journalist’s brother, Hassan Obeid Hassan.
The agents took Obeid to intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, where he has been held since his arrest, Hassan said. During Obeid’s arrest, authorities also seized his car, luggage, and money without a warrant, according to his brother.
In the weeks prior to his arrest, Obeid posted an article to his Facebook page, which has over 24,000 followers, that was critical of the Iraqi government, and an alleged government document that indicates corrupt practices.
“Iraqi authorities should stop harassing and arresting journalists like Samir Obeid for posting their reporting and opinions to social media,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington D.C. “We call on Iraqi authorities to immediately release Obeid and allow journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal.”
The Iraqi prime minister’s office did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment.
According to the journalist’s brother, neither Obeid’s family nor lawyer has been able to contact the journalist since his arrest; they were unable to determine if charges had been filed against Obeid.
The journalist’s brother said he thinks that authorities arrested Obeid because they expect an Iraqi high court to overturn a Baghdad criminal court’s decision to release Obeid late last year due to insufficient evidence. The next high court hearing is scheduled for February 18, according to Hassan.
Iraqi armed forces previously arrested Obeid at his Baghdad home on October 22, 2017, a day after Obeid had published an article to his Facebook page criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, CPJ documented.
Since his release on December 11, 2017, Iraqi authorities have withheld Obeid’s passport and other documents, according to Hassan.
Following his December release, Obeid continued to be active on social media. On January 27, 2018, he wrote a post entitled “Why 85 percent of the Iraqi officials are corrupt and liars?” that criticized political and religious authorities, the lack of rule of law in Iraq, as well as the prevailing censorship and a subservient civil society. Earlier, on January 17, he posted what he said was an official document of the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers calling on public servants to vote in the upcoming Parliamentary Elections, which are due to be held on May 12, under threat of cutting off their salaries.
[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.]