On January 30, 2023, Iraqi border guards in Halabja province, near the border with Iran, detained a three-person video crew from the independent Shar Press media agency for about three hours, according to a report by the agency and Shar Press correspondent Hawraz Ahmed, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
The team, which consisted of Ahmed and two camera operators, Hevi Khalid and Bawar Rafiq, traveled to the border town of Tawella to report on cross-border smuggling with Iran, according to that report, which said the team had received permission to report from the Iraqi Kurdish Asayish intelligence agency and was accompanied by an Asayish agent at the time they were detained.
While they were filming, an armed masked man in civilian clothes shouted at the crew to stop recording and pointed a gun at Ahmed and Khalid, Ahmed told CPJ. Minutes later, four or five additional armed men arrived at the scene, followed by an Iraqi border guard vehicle, Ahmed said. The border authorities detained the crew and the Asayish agent and took them to the border control headquarters in Byara district.
“They investigated us, asked why we are doing the report, and searched our cameras,” Ahmed said, adding that the border guards “emphasized” that the crew should not report on kolbars, or laborers who transport goods across borders.
Khalid told CPJ via phone that the crew had recorded some footage but hid those recordings from the border guards by swapping out their cameras’ memory cards with spare ones. When the guards asked them to erase any recordings, the crew showed them the empty memory cards.
The team was released after the intervention of the Halabja governor, the mayor of the city of Halabja, and a member of a local press freedom group, according to Ahmed.
Khalid told CPJ that the border guards asked the team to sign a pledge not to report from that area in the future, but they refused.
Ibrahim Muhammed, regiment commander of the second battalion of the Iraqi border guards, told CPJ via phone that the team was required to coordinate with the border authorities and not the Asayish to report from that area.
“Any media coverage at borderlines is forbidden, unless they get a formal permission letter from our main headquarter in Sulaymaniyah,” he said.