Beirut, October 7, 2019 -- Iraqi authorities should immediately investigate the recent attacks against four broadcasters in Baghdad and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 5, unidentified armed assailants wearing masks and black uniforms broke into and ransacked the Baghdad offices of Dijlah TV, NRT Arabic, Al-Hadath, and Al-Arabiya, stealing equipment and assaulting employees, according to news reports, local press freedom groups, and statements from the broadcasters.
The attacks took place amid ongoing protests over unemployment, a lack of basic services, and government corruption that broke out in the Iraqi capital and spread to other cities starting on October 1, according to news reports.
“The recent attacks on several broadcasters in Baghdad are a clear attempt to intimidate journalists and prevent them from covering the ongoing anti-government protests,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on Iraqi authorities to investigate the attacks on the broadcasters and do their utmost to ensure journalists can cover the protests safely.”
About 100 masked men in black uniforms stormed the Baghdad offices of Dijlah TV, an Iraqi broadcaster based in Amman, Jordan, stole broadcasting equipment including cameras and laptops, and then poured gasoline throughout the offices and set the building ablaze, according to a statement by the National Union of Journalists in Iraq, an independent press syndicate, which cited management officials at the broadcaster.
One hour before the raid, the Communications and Media Commission, a government bureau tasked with monitoring the country’s media, sent a letter to Dijlah TV ordering the station to cease broadcasting for one month over alleged violations of expression laws, the union statement said.
In a statement condemning the attack, Dijlah TV attributed the attack to its coverage of the protests.
Similarly dressed armed men driving white Land Cruisers also vandalized the Baghdad office of NRT Arabic, a privately owned Iraqi TV broadcaster, broke broadcasting equipment, and assaulted four editors and reporters, according to a report by the broadcaster.
Masked gunmen wearing black uniforms also stormed into the Baghdad offices of Al-Hadath and Al-Arabiya, Saudi-funded sister networks, and similarly destroyed equipment and assaulted staffers, according to an Al-Arabiya report and CCTV footage of the attack the broadcaster uploaded to YouTube.
The CCTV footage shows a white Land Cruiser arrive at the broadcaster’s office, and armed men can be seen storming into the office, where they begin breaking and taking away equipment.
One Al-Arabiya employee was seriously injured in the raid, according to news reports.
CPJ could not determine the total number of journalists injured in the raids, or the extent of their injuries.
CPJ emailed the Communications and Media Commission and the Iraqi Interior Ministry for comment on the raids and the letter sent to Dijlah TV, but did not receive any reply.
Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath are still broadcasting following the raid, according to their respective live-stream websites. Diljah TV has not put out any new programming since the raid, according to its Facebook page. NRT Arabic has released some news footage following the raid, but has not resumed live programming, according its YouTube live-streaming page.
At least 130 arrest warrants have been issued under Iraq’s anti-terrorism laws against activists participating in the protests and journalists covering them, according to news reports.
Some journalists have fled Baghdad amid the protests, and some news outlets have shuttered their Baghdad offices out of concern for their safety, according to Jumana Mumtaz, a National Union of Journalists in Iraq board member, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.