Between January 16 and 22, 2019, at least four Iraqi journalists were detained in connection with their work in Mosul and Irbil, according to news reports, the journalists’ employers, and the local press freedom groups Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq and the Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech.
On January 16, Kurdish police raided the office of the Iraqi independent broadcaster NRT in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and arrested Rebwar Kakayee, director of that office, over lawsuits filed against him by the political bureau of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party and the bureau’s secretary, Fazil Mirani, according to Kakayee’s employer and the Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech.
Soran Rashid, NRT’s newsroom manager, told CPJ that the lawsuits against Kakayee were filed in response to a September 8, 2018, NRT report accusing the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party of cracking down on the free trade of medicines in the region and giving a monopoly to drug companies owned by relatives of senior party officials.
Mirani did not reply to CPJ’s request for comment via social media.
Kakayee was released later on January 16 on a bail of 1 billion Iraqi dinars ($836) after giving testimony in court, according to his employer. He has been charged by an Erbil court with violating a statute prohibiting the “illegal use of a communication tool,” according to NRT.
The following week, Mosul authorities arrested several journalists as part of a crackdown led by the local governor. Starting on January 19, several Iraqi news agencies expressed concern that Nawfal Hammadi al-Aacoub, governor of Nineveh Governorate which includes Mosul, would ban journalists from reporting in the old city of Mosul on the grounds that the area is being demined. According to those agencies, journalists are required to request approval from his office before reporting from the city.
On January 22, Mosul police arrested a crew from Al-Mawsleya TV, a U.S.-funded broadcaster, consisting of reporter Ziad Tareq al-Sumaidai, cameraman Ahmad al-Nuaimi, and camera assistant Abdel Rahman Hani Jassim while they were reporting in the old city and took them to the headquarters of the Nineveh Fifth Emergency Police Regiment, according to news reports, the journalists’ employer, and the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq.
“We were working on a report on the reopening of shops in the Sargkhana market, and how that area is returning to normal and being revived. I mean, it was a positive report, but the police came and arrested us,” al-Nuaimi told CPJ. “We were held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. We were asked by the police officers to sign a pledge saying that we will not film again in the old city of Mosul, but we refused.”
“They told us that the arrest had to do with the governor’s order not to film in old Mosul. They eventually let us go,” he added.
On January 21, Al-Mawsleya TV had aired a video in which local journalists in Mosul criticized the governor’s decision to ban media coverage in the old city.
Governor al-Aacoub did not reply to CPJ’s request for comment via social media.