Beirut, October 4, 2019 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned restrictions on news coverage of protests in Iraq and called on authorities to unblock news and social media websites throughout the country and let the press operate freely.
On October 1 and 2, amid protests in Baghdad and Al-Diwaniyah, police detained journalists, obstructed coverage, confiscated equipment, and attacked reporters with batons, according to news reports and reports by local press freedom groups.
Protests over unemployment, a lack of basic services, and government corruption broke out in the Iraqi capital and spread to other cities on October 1, according to news reports. At least 19 people have died in the protests, and authorities have imposed a 5 p.m. curfew in Baghdad, according to those reports.
“By shutting down the internet and forcibly preventing journalists from covering the protests, Iraqi authorities seem to be intent on creating a black hole for news,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on the Iraqi authorities to immediately restore full internet access and ensure that journalists can do their job freely and safely.”
On October 1, federal police in Baghdad detained Al-Rasheed TV reporter Arshad Al-Hakim and camera operator Ali Fadel while they were covering protests, and held them for about an hour, according to a report by the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq, a local press freedom group, and a statement from their employer posted on Facebook.
In of Al-Diwaniyah, SWAT police forces obstructed a group of journalists covering protests, seized their equipment, and beat some of the journalists with electric batons, according to according to the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq, the National Union of Journalists-Iraq, and videos and pictures posted by the journalists on social media.
The journalists who were beaten with batons included Dijlah TV reporter Zaid al-Fatlawi, NAS news agency photographer Nabil al-Jobouri, and Al-Ahad TV cameraman Mustafa al-Mayahi and reporter Ola Al-Nadawi, according to the National Union of Journalists-Iraq.
Police later returned equipment that they confiscated from Al-Taghier reporter Mohammad Hassan, Al-Nujaba TV reporter Hasanain al-Mayahi, and Al-Masaa News Agency photographer Mohammad Masara.
Hasanain al-Mayahi told CPJ via email that officers still have not returned the memory card from his camera, and said an officer pointed a gun at his face while confiscating his equipment.
He said that security forces also beat Baghdad Today reporter Mohammad al-Shamari, Al-Dijlah TV cameraman Mohammad al-Bolani, Radio al-Marbad reporter Zia al-Mahja, and Al-Sharqiyya TV cameraman Mohammad al-Naimi.
On October 2, security forces in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square harassed Ayman al-Amiri, a reporter for the news website Irfa Sawtak, while he was covering protests, he told CPJ via messaging app. He was filming as a demonstrator was shot by security forces, at which point, “soldiers immediately approached me and an officer ordered me to delete the footage or else he would destroy my camera by smashing it on my head,” he said.
Beginning on October 2, several major network operators blocked Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media and messaging apps, and subsequently restricted internet access across much of Iraq, according to Netblocks and IODA. Internet access throughout the country remains limited, according to those reports.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry, the media office of the Al-Diwaniyah police, and the Iraqi Ministry of Communications did not immediately reply to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and messaging app.