An Ashura commemoration in Baghdad, as seen on August 21, 2020. After Dijlah TV aired music on Ashura, a Baghdad court issued an arrest warrant for the station's owner. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for owner of Iraqi broadcaster Dijlah TV

New York, September 1, 2020 — Iraqi authorities should immediately drop the arrest warrant for Jamal Karbouli, the Iraqi owner of Amman-based Dijlah TV, and allow Dijlah TV to operate freely and without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Dijlah TV has an office in Baghdad and broadcasts in Iraq. 

Baghdad’s Rusafa Investigative Court yesterday issued an arrest warrant for Karbouli for allegedly insulting Shia Muslims in Iraq by broadcasting music on Dijlah TV’s affiliated channel Dijlah Tarab during Ashura, a day of mourning, according to news reports and copies of the arrest warrant and the complaint filed against Karbouli, which CPJ reviewed. The warrant said Karbouli’s place of residence is unknown. 

Ashura, which started the evening of August 28 this year and ended the next night, is a holy day for Shia Muslims that commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in Karbala. According to news reports, Dijlah Tarab broadcast a concert during the holiday. In an apology, Dijlah TV blamed the administration of Dijlah Tarab, without specifying what went wrong, according to news reports

“Offending religious sentiments cannot be a justification for ordering the arrest of the owner of a broadcaster, especially when the broadcaster has already issued a public apology,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on Iraqi authorities to immediately revoke the arrest warrant against Jamal Karbouli and allow Dijlah TV to operate freely and without fear of retaliation.”

According to the same sources, a group of lawyers filed the complaint against Karbouli with the Baghdad court, prompting the court to issue the arrest warrant. The reports do not specify whom the lawyers represented in their complaint. If Karbouli is found guilty of offending religious views, he could face up to three years in prison according to Article 372/1 of the Iraqi Penal Code.

The Rusafa court also called on Iraq’s media regulator, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), to take legal and administrative measures against Dijlah TV, news reports said. On August 30, CMC released a statement saying that the commission is looking into the matter, according to reports. 

Neither the Justice Ministry nor the CMC immediately replied to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and messaging app. 

On August 30, Dijlah TV issued a statement apologizing to all the believers in Iraq and clarifying that Dijlah Tarab did not intentionally schedule the musical programming on the holiday, according to news reports. 

The statement also said that Dijlah Tarab would temporarily cease its broadcast out of respect for Shia Muslims, and take administrative action against Dijlah Tarab administrators, though it did not specify what kind of action.  

Yesterday, Karbouli published a statement on his Facebook account indicating that he would cooperate with authorities by saying that he will respect the judiciary and appear before it. The warrant CPJ reviewed, however, makes no mention of a summons or a court date. 

Karbouli added on Facebook that the Dijlah Tarab channel airs only apolitical content and aims to promote Iraqi art and cultural heritage among the Arab public. It employs no journalists, he wrote, just computer technicians who live abroad.  

Protesters yesterday gathered in front of the Dijlah TV of office in Baghdad, ransacked it, destroyed broadcasting equipment, and set it on fire, according to footage and pictures posted by Dijlah TV on its Twitter account, news reports, and Iraqi press freedom organizations. In his Facebook statement, Karbouli accused “dark militias” of being behind the destruction, though did not provide any additional details.  

In addition to owning Dijlah TV, Karbouli is the leader of the Al-Hal movement, a Sunni-based opposition party, according to Karbouli’s Facebook page and news reports. Karbouli did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. 

CPJ has documented several previous incidents regarding Dijlah TV. In the course of antigovernment protests that began in October 2019, the station has been ransacked and torched by unknown assailants, raided and shuttered by security forces, and closed by the CMC.