Beirut, October 17, 2019 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Iraqi authorities to disclose whether they have custody of Iraqi blogger Shojaa Fares al-Khafaji and if not, to immediately open an investigation after unidentified armed men took him from his home.
At about 5:30 a.m. today, unidentified armed men in unmarked uniforms forced al-Khafaji, who runs the blog Clean Brotherhood, out of his home in Baghdad, according to a statement by the blog and a local journalist with knowledge of the situation, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. The men raided al-Khafaji’s home and seized cell phones, computers, and surveillance camera footage there, all within sight of Iraqi security forces, according to the statement.
A Clean Brotherhood staffer, who also spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they believed al-Khafaji is being held in a detention facility in Muthanna Airport, in west Baghdad.
Initial reports suggested that al-Khafaji had been arrested by a police SWAT team, but the journalist who spoke with CPJ and the Clean Brotherhood statement described the men as simply “unknown.”
The Iraqi Interior Ministry did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
“We are extremely concerned for the welfare of blogger Shojaa Fares al-Khafaji and call on Iraqi authorities to disclose whether he is in their custody and to get quickly to the bottom of the situation if he is not,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Journalists in Iraq all too often contend with harassment, violence, and other threats – this mysterious abduction from the safety of a journalist’s own home is dumbfounding.”
Clean Brotherhood, which has over 2.5 million followers on Facebook, reports on political issues and civil society in Iraq. Its most recent posts include pictures of a protester who was beaten by security forces and footage of an October 2 anti-government protest.
In September, al-Khafaji was among a group of Baghdad-based journalists and writers who were targeted by an online smear campaign that published their pictures and places of work, according to the local press freedom group the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory and the regional human rights organization the Gulf Centre for Human Rights.
Since protests broke out in Iraq in early October, security forces have beaten and obstructed journalists covering the protests in Baghdad and al-Diwaniyah, and unidentified assailants raided the Baghdad offices of at least four broadcasters, destroying broadcasting equipment and assaulting staff, according to CPJ research.