Iraqi TV presenter Muhannad al-Okaidi was kidnapped by Islamic State militants in Mosul in August 2014, colleagues told CPJ during a series of interviews in the Iraqi city of Irbil.
Some of the journalists with whom CPJ spoke said al-Okaidi was taken from his home. A colleague from Al-Mosuliya TV, who requested anonymity because of security concerns, said al-Okaidi had tried to flee Mosul in August 2014 with his press card but was stopped at a checkpoint manned by Islamic State militants and taken hostage. The colleague did not say how he knew al-Okaidi had his press card with him or how he knew he had been stopped at a checkpoint.
The colleague added that it was possible al-Okaidi had signed a “repentance list,” a document journalists and members of the security services were ordered by Islamic State militants to sign to avoid being taken captive by the group. This list, which states the signatory has been “forgiven,” is widely believed to be a way of establishing the names and contact details of prominent opponents of the militant group, who were then directly targeted.
A former producer at Al-Mosuliya TV, where al-Okaidi worked and who lives in exile in Irbil, told CPJ that even though the channel’s U.S. funding ceased in 2009, a perception that its staff were agents of America stuck. The producer, who has not been named out of concerns for his safety, said that when Islamic State seized Mosul, militants smashed the channel’s technical equipment and seized some of its staff.
On 13 October 2014, the Iraqi Observatory for Journalistic Freedoms and Rudaw, an independent Iraqi Kurdish news outlet that cited an account by the Kurdish political party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, reported that al-Okaidi had been shot dead. Rudaw said that al-Okaidi’s family had been called in to identify his body.
However, in a report published October 20, 2014, the family said they had spoken to their kidnapped son on the phone a few days earlier and that he said he was being held by Islamic State.
In September 2015, al-Okaidi’s name appeared on a list of 2,070 people Islamic State claims to have killed in Mosul, which was posted in coroner’s offices and police stations in the city, several of the journalist’s colleagues told CPJ. CPJ has been unable to confirm that al-Okaidi’s name appeared on the list.
The family say they never received al-Okaidi’s body and believe he is alive, another Al-Mosuliya TV colleague, who asked not to be named because of security concerns, told CPJ. Other colleagues interviewed by CPJ in Irbil said they could not be sure if the journalist had been killed.
Representatives of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the Nineveh Reporters Network, and the Nineveh Media Foundation told CPJ that they consider al-Okaidi imprisoned. The groups counts journalists being held by Islamic State as jailed. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory describes al-Okaidi’s case as an “enforced disappearance.”
On May 7, 2020, al-Okaidi’s brother Alaa told CPJ via messaging app that no new information has emerged about the fate of al-Okaidi since he was kidnapped in 2014.
“Nothing indicates that he was actually killed. We have not received his remains and apart from hearsay, there are no new developments. There were rumors that he might be in Syria or at the detention facility in Baghdad’s Muthanna Airport, but we couldn’t find anything to substantiate that claim,” Alaa said.
Alaa al-Okaidi added that the family had approached the authorities regarding the fate of Muhannad, but no action was taken.
“They wrote down the details of his abduction, published them on the official gazette and considered him missing. That was four years ago and nothing has come out of this,” he pointed out.