On September 5, 2022, Iraqi Kurdistan Asayish forces arrested NRT broadcast reporter Kareem Kaifi while he tried to cover a drone attack in Erbil governate’s Soran district, according to a report by the broadcaster and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Earlier that day, a drone attack targeted a group of fighters with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in the Soran village of Tarawa, killing two and injuring others, according to a local news report.
Kaifi told CPJ that he and a friend attempted to pass through a checkpoint manned by Asayish intelligence agents to cover the incident, but the officers would not allow them to enter “and said that I can’t cover it.” He told the security forces that he had a right to cover the incident and asked why some journalists were given access, but they continued to deny him entry to the area, he said.
At about 10:30 p.m. that evening, as Kaifi was preparing to do a live broadcast nearly 2 kilometers away, two vehicles carrying Asayish agents approached him, confiscated his phone and tripod, and handcuffed and arrested him, Kaifi said. The agents took Kaifi to the Asayish station in Khalifan district, and then to the Asayish headquarters in the city of Soran, where they put him in solitary confinement, he said.
“I told them many times that I didn’t do anything wrong, I am only a journalist,” he told CPJ, saying the agents did not listen to his pleas. Agents held Kaifi in solitary confinement until about 2 p.m. on September 6, and then brought him back to the Khalifan Asayish station, he said.
At that station, agents asked Kaifi to sign a pledge stating that he would not cover such incidents “without Asayish pre-coordination,” he told CPJ. Asayish agents told Kaifi that other journalists complied with such regulations, he said, adding that he told them that he was not aware of any such rules.
“They told me, either you sign this pledge, or I will stay at the prison,” Kaifi said, adding that he signed the pledge and was released.
Ismail Ibrahim, head of the Soran branch of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate union, told CPJ in a phone interview that his group told Asayish authorities that there was “no need” to arrest members of the press for such alleged regulatory violations, and said that his organization asked the Asayish to give them a report on the reason for Kaifi’s arrest.
NRT newsroom manager Mariwan Hassan told CPJ in a phone interview that it was “not fair” that Asayish forces “block our staff” from covering news in the area while other news groups were allowed to do so. He added that NRT news crews are facing a “huge” amount of pressure from Erbil officials, especially in Soran.
CPJ contacted Erbil Asayish spokesperson Ashti Majeed for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any response.