Iraqi armed forces from the 54th brigade arrested freelance journalist and commentator Samir Obeid at his Baghdad home on October 22, 2017, according to the local press freedom groups the Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech and the Iraq Observatory for Press Freedoms. The arrest came a day after Obeid published an article to his Facebook page, which has over 24,000 followers, in which he was critical of Iraq’s prime minister.
On October 26, Baghdad’s Al-Sa’a Court charged Obeid with spreading rumors and fake news and misleading public opinion under Article 210 of the Iraqi penal code, according to a post that Obeid’s brother, Hassan Obeid Hassan, published on his Facebook page.
Hassan told CPJ that the bail conditions were met and the family had expected Obeid to be released on October 30. However, on November 8, authorities referred Obeid’s case to a criminal court and charged the journalist with communicating with foreign parties in accordance with Article 164 of the Iraqi penal code, Hassan told CPJ.
According to Hassan, neither Obeid’s family nor lawyer were able to contact the journalist in the weeks following his arrest.
In the October 21 Facebook post, Obeid wrote that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi used the country’s armed forces to retake Kirkuk so that foreign oil companies that helped al-Abadi become prime minister.
Hassan told CPJ that he believes that his brother’s arrest is in retribution for this article and that the charges are false and unfounded.
The Iraqi Prime Minister’s office did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment.
The second charge, for communicating with foreign parties, is based on Obeid’s guest appearances on the Al-Jazeera program "Opposite Directions," Hassan wrote in a Facebook post. He wrote that Iraqi authorities consider the Qatari-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera to be allied with foreign countries that plan to overthrow their government. CPJ was unable to verify Hassan’s explanation of the charges.
Samir Obeid was a frequent critic of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and lived in exile in Norway until 2014, when he returned to Baghdad.
Obeid has regularly appeared as an expert and commentator on television channels including Tigris TV, ANB, and NRT, and has provided analysis on Iraqi political issues including the implications of the Kurdish independence referendum and the Iraqi government’s decision to award the U.S. firm Blackwater a contract to protect the Trebil section of the Iraq-Jordan border crossing.
Obeid posted opinion pieces and articles on his Facebook page about the dispute between the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and the Iraqi government following the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, 2017.
As of late 2017, Obeid was held at Baghdad’s Al-Muthanna Air Base.