New York, May 19, 2020 -- Iraq authorities should conduct a transparent and speedy investigation into the ransacking of the Baghdad office of the Saudi broadcaster MBC and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, dozens of protesters stormed and the Baghdad office of the Middle East Broadcasting Center, a Saudi state-funded broadcaster, resulting in “severe damage” to the outlet’s studios and offices, but no injuries, according to a statement by MBC, news reports, and tweets from the office by MBC host Malek al-Rogui.
According to those reports, the attackers stormed the office after MBC aired a program suggesting that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, an Iraqi militia leader who was killed in January, had been involved in a terrorist attack in Lebanon in 1981.
“Iraqi authorities are utterly failing to protect broadcasters and media outlets from attacks by protesters or armed assailants who are taking the law into their own hands,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Iraqi authorities must transparently investigate the storming of the Baghdad office of MBC and do their utmost to ensure journalists and media outlets can do their job safely, regardless of their affiliation or opinions.”
On May 15, MBC aired a program on Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, which mentioned that his wife was killed in a 1981 terrorist attack in Beirut, and suggested that al-Muhandes was connected to the attack. Al-Muhandes, who was killed in the U.S. drone strike that also killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, was a leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella group consisting of mainly Shia militias, according to The Associated Press.
Following the airing of the show, political parties and organizations affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces including the Sanad Bloc, the Badr Organization, and the Martyrs Foundation issued statements condemning the broadcast and called on Iraq’s media regulator, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission, to shut down MBC.
The Interior Ministry released a statement yesterday condemning the attack and saying that security forces and the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission were investigating the matter.
In October 2019, unidentified assailants raided four broadcasters in Baghdad, stole equipment, and assaulted their employees, CPJ documented at the time.