Demonstrators are seen in Baghdad, Iraq, on October 25, 2019. Journalists have been attacked and detained amid the protests. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)
Demonstrators are seen in Baghdad, Iraq, on October 25, 2019. Journalists have been attacked and detained amid the protests. (Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani)

Journalists injured and detained, broadcasters banned as protests resume in Iraq

Beirut, October 29, 2019 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned recent attacks on journalists and media outlets in Iraq, and urged authorities to ensure that journalists can cover the ongoing protests in the country safely and without obstruction.

After a brief lull, anti-corruption and unemployment protests reignited in Iraq on October 24, and led to at least 74 deaths by October 27, according to news reports and a statement by the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.

At least two journalists for local broadcaster Al-Sumaria TV have been injured in the latest wave of protests, one journalist was briefly detained, and two broadcasters have been banned, according to statements from the National Union of Journalists in Iraq and local press freedom organization Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq, as well as news reports.

“Iraqi authorities seem more focused on preventing journalists from doing their jobs than on protecting them from harm while they cover protests,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on Iraqi authorities to do all they can to ensure that journalists and news outlets can do their jobs freely and safely.”

On October 25, police fired a tear gas canister that hit Hisham Wassim, a reporter for Al-Sumaria TV, in the face while he was covering protests at Baghdad’s Jumhuriyya Bridge, according to the journalists’ union statement and reports by his employer.

Wassim was seriously injured by the grenade and was taken to Al-Kindi Hospital in Baghdad, according to those reports. On October 27, he was flown to Beirut for surgery, according to his employer. Zian, an Al-Sumaria employee who declined to provide their full name to CPJ, said via phone that Wassim is set to receive minor surgery on his face, but had not sustained any bone fractures.

On October 26, police fired a tear gas bomb that hit Ali Jassem, a camera operator for Al-Sumaria TV, in his right hand and abdomen with shrapnel while he was covering protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, according to his employer, the journalists’ union, and the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq.

Zian told CPJ that Jassem sustained light injuries and had gone back to work.

At 2:30 a.m. on October 27, a group of counter-terrorism agents stormed into the house of Hussein al-Amal, a reporter for the newspaper Al-Mada, in the southern Iraqi city of al-Nasiriyah and detained al-Amal, his son, and his nephew, according to the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq and Amir Hamid, a researcher for Al-Mada, who spoke to CPJ via email.

Agents took al-Amal and his family members to the Counter-Terrorism Directorate in al-Nasiriyah on allegations of participating in demonstrations, and released him and his nephew on bail a few hours later, according to a Facebook post by al-Amal. His son was released the following night, according to another post by al-Amal.

In a video posted to Facebook, al-Amal said he had gone to the protests as part of his work as a journalist. The day before his arrest, he had reported in Al-Mada on clashes between protesters and militias in al-Nasiriyah.

Iraqi authorities have also cracked down on news coverage of the protests. On October 24, the Iraqi Interior Ministry banned live coverage of the protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, according to news reports.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Brigadier General Khaled al-Muhanna was cited by the news website Nas News as saying that authorized journalists were allowed to interview protesters and record the protests, but not to broadcast them live.

On October 25, Iraq’s media regulator, the Communications and Media Committee, ordered the Amman-based Iraqi satellite broadcaster Al-Dijlah TV’s transmissions into Iraq to be blocked and its offices shut down for allegedly failing to abide by professional standards, according to news reports and the journalists’ union statement.

Al-Dijlah TV’s offices in Baghdad were ransacked and burned by unidentified armed assailants on October 5, as CPJ reported at the time.

Jamal Karbouli, leader of the Al-Hal Party and owner of Dijlah TV, said on Twitter that Dijlah TV had never violated professional standards, and said it covered Iraq truthfully.

“I prefer the closure of Dijlah TV and the stopping of its broadcast a thousand times over hiding the truth from Iraqis,” Karbouli said in his tweet.

On October 27, Iraqi police told Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya and its sister company Al-Hadath that the outlets were banned from operating in the country and urged theirs staffs to cease all journalistic work, citing a licensing issue, according to news reports and a report by Al-Arabiya.

CPJ emailed the Communications and Media Committee and the Iraqi Interior Ministry for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.