New York, August 31, 2022 – Iraqi authorities should stop assaulting and detaining journalists and take all necessary measures to ensure their safety while reporting on mass political protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Monday, August 29, Iraqi security forces arrested, assaulted, or confiscated equipment from journalists with local and international outlets covering protests in Baghdad, the capital, according to the journalists and their colleagues, who spoke with CPJ, and reports by their outlets.
Separately, on Tuesday, a mortar shell injured at least two journalists covering armed clashes in the city.
“Iraqi forces have displayed a startling disregard for the safety of civilians and journalists covering protests in Baghdad since August 29,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “Iraqi authorities must stop assaulting and detaining journalists, allow them to work freely, and ensure that members of the country’s security forces who attack members of the press are identified and held to account.”
Protests broke out in Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to government institutions and foreign embassies, by supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on August 29 after he announced his decision to retire from politics, according to news reports. Authorities later declared a curfew in Baghdad.
During those protests, Iraqi Special Forces arrested reporter Rokan Jaf and camera operator Gailan Sabah while they covered security forces’ dispersal of the demonstrations for the privately owned Kurdish media outlet Zoom News, according to a Facebook post by the outlet and Jaf, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
“Once they knew I (was) a journalist, they caught me immediately,” Jaf told CPJ, adding that he identified the members of the special forces by their black uniforms. Four Special Forces agents punched and kicked Jaf, took his phone and Sabah’s camera, and detained them both, he said.
After protestors were cleared from the area, authorities released Sabah and Jaf and returned Jaf’s phone but not Sabah’s camera, according to Jaf and Zoom News director Hemn Mahmood, who spoke to CPJ by phone. Jaf told CPJ he was not seriously injured in the incident.
Also during those protests on August 29, security forces in black uniforms assaulted Haider al-Badri, a reporter for the privately owned news channel UTV, and attempted to seize a camera from his camera operator Adulmalik Faisal, according to the Iraqi press freedom advocacy group Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) and a video posted to UTV’s Facebook page.
CPJ was unable to immediately determine whether al-Badri was injured during the incident.
Authorities also briefly detained a team with the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, including reporter Samir Yousif and seven others, according to a video Yousif posted on Twitter, a report by the outlet, and a journalist familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app on the condition they not be named because they did not have permission to speak to the press. Authorities let them go after smashing the window of their car, taking their camera, and breaking it in front of them.
Security forces wearing black masks and unmarked uniforms also assaulted Ammar Ghassan, a reporter for the privately owned satellite channel Al-Rasheed TV, and his colleagues while they covered authorities’ dispersal of the protests, according to a video on the broadcaster’s Facebook page and a report by news website Baghdad Today.
In that video, Ghassan showed a bruise on his shoulder that he said was the result of the attack.
“Seven armed security forces came to us. They knew we were a TV channel crew and beat us,” he said. “They also took our mic, camera, and live stream device and destroyed my mobile phone.” CPJ was unable to immediately determine how many Al-Rasheed TV journalists were injured in the incident.
CPJ is also investigating posts on social media by Associated Press photographer Hadi Mizban, who said Iraqi security forces attacked him and took his camera and ID, and by the privately owned Iraqi news outlet Fallujah TV, which wrote that its correspondent Saif Ali was “seriously injured” while covering the protests.
CPJ messaged Mizban and Fallujah TV on Facebook to seek more details on those incidents but did not immediately receive any replies.
Yehia Rasool, a spokesperson for the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces, who oversees the special forces, told CPJ via messaging app that the armed forces were investigating reports of special forces attacking journalists in the Green Zone, and said they would not allow such attacks to be repeated.
Separately, on Tuesday, Mustafa Latif and Kamil Raad, reporters for the privately owned Iraqi satellite channel Dijla TV, were injured by mortar fire while reporting on armed demonstrators clashing with security forces in the aftermath of the protests, according to a Facebook post from their outlet, a JFO report, and Latif, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Latif told CPJ that he was injured by shrapnel in his face, Raad was hit by shrapnel in his leg, and they were both taken to the Al-Kadhimiya Hospital for treatment. Latif said he did not know the source of the mortar fire.