A vehicle of the Iraqi federal police is seen on a street in Kirkuk, Iraq on October 19, 2017. Officers with the force detained four journalists reporting near Kirkuk. (Reuters/Ako Rasheed)

Iraqi federal police detain Kurdish broadcasting crews on assignment in Kirkuk

On August 2, 2020, Iraqi federal police officers detained two TV crews with Kurdish broadcasters Kurdistan 24 (K24) and NRT, seized their equipment, and destroyed a camera while the reporters were on assignment near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, according to K24 reporter Soran Kamaran, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, an account by the NRT crew reviewed by CPJ, as well as a K24 article and an NRT video published on Facebook. 

In addition to Kamaran, K24 cameraman Nawzad Mohammad, NRT reporter Aso Ahmed Saeed, and NRT cameraman Ali Nuradin Ali, were also detained according to their employers. All four were detained in the course of reporting on land disputes between Kurdish and Arab farmers, which resulted in Kurdish protests in villages south of Kirkuk, the same sources said.  

Kamaran told CPJ that he and Mohammad were covering a Kurdish protest in the village of Guli Tapa when federal police officers stopped them. 

“They put us in a truck with tinted windows for three hours and ordered us to keep our heads low inside the car. They treated us as criminals. I showed them a permit from the Kirkuk police saying that we were allowed to work, but they tore up the letter and seized the memory cards of our camera, even though we hadn’t taken any pictures when we were arrested. After a number of phone calls were made by members of parliament demanding our release, they let us go,” Kamaran said. 

According to an account by Saeed and Ali sent by NRT to CPJ via messaging app, the journalists were broadcasting live in the village of Haftaghar when federal police spotted them. Footage of the live broadcast published on NRT’s Facebook page shows Saeed reporting and interviewing protesters when a person who appears to be an Iraqi security officer orders the NRT crew to stop recording.

“They approached us, demanded that we stop filming, and told us to get into our cars and leave the area or else they would arrest us. They also dispersed the protesters who moved along the Baghdad-Kirkuk road to Haftaghar village, where we started to broadcast the protest live again,” Saeed wrote in the account.  

“The protesters started shouting and asking them not to arrest us. At that moment, one of the officers brought our camera to the commander of the federal police, who smashed it to the ground,” he continued. 

According to their account, Saeed and Ali were released minutes later and local residents took them to a house where they stayed for three hours. A local resident later drove them back to Kirkuk. Federal police kept their damaged camera, microphone, and memory cards, returning only the camera the following day. 

The Federal Police Command of Iraq did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.