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Freedom of Expression
Home > Country focus > Iraq > Freedom of expression in Iraq in 2012

Freedom of expression in Iraq in 2012

Monday 14 January 2013, by Un Ponte Per...

Iraq placed 150th in the Press Freedom Index in 2012. The country experienced numerous violations against freedom of expression throughout the year. Threats and attacks against journalists by security officials were prominent during the year. According to Human Right’s Watch, the KRG, Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, is reported to have arrested and detained at least 50 journalists, critics, and opposition political activists arbitrarily. Attempts to repeal the Law on Journalists’ Rights were made in June. The Law that was adopted on 9 August 2011 aimed to protect the rights of journalists but Article 19 states that, “although the adopted Law improves on earlier drafts, overall it does not comprehensively address the failings of earlier drafts of the Law.” Violations against journalists were still present after the law. TV stations, newspapers and writers have all been targets after displaying views contrary to the Iraqi government. Listed below are a few of the freedom of expression violations documented in 2012.

• On 2 April a car bomb killed Kamiran Salaheddin a tv presenter and the head of the local journalists’ union in Tikrit.
• On 17 May the editor of an Iraqi Kurdish magazine, Hamin Ary, was arrested for publishing a blasphemous article written by Goran Halmat
• On 30 September local TV presenter Ghazwan Anas was gunned down, this is thought to have been a signal to other journalists.

Iraq continued to be an extremely dangerous country for media personnel. Threats and attacks were prominent against people with opposing religious and political views. Reporters without Borders states that, “journalists are constantly being attacked, especially by armed groups linked to local politicians or criminal organizations.”

Examples cited in text:

Details on 2 April car bomb
Details on 17 May arrest of Hamin Ary
Details on 30 September murder of Ghazwan Anas

Various sources on freedom of expression in Iraq throughout 2012:

Human Rights Watch - World Report 2013

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.
On May 8, the National Communications and Media Commission of Iraq (NCMC) asked the Interior Ministry to “take the necessary legal measures” against 44 foreign and Iraqi media outlets it stated were operating illegally. The media outlets remained open at this writing, but registration is difficult, leaving them vulnerable to closure.
A draft law on information technology crimes awaits parliamentary ratification. One article provides for life imprisonment and large fines for vaguely defined crimes, such as “intentionally” using computer devices and information networks to undermine the country’s “supreme economic, political, military, or security interests.”


During 2012, KRG security forces are reported to have arrested and detained at least 50 journalists, critics, and opposition political activists arbitrarily, and prosecuted at least seven of them on criminal charges concerning insulting or defaming public figures, according to information obtained by Human Rights Watch during six visits to the Kurdistan Region, the most recent in November and December. One former customs official, Akram Abdulkarim, has been in jail for more than a year without trial on national security charges after he accused leading members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two parties in the coalition that rules the Kurdistan Region, of siphoning off customs revenues.

In November and December, Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 journalists, political activists, and others arrested since the beginning of 2012, after criticizing regional government authorities. The authorities released some without charge after a period in detention but successfully prosecuted others on defamation or insult charges, resulting in fines and prison sentences. One, lawyer Zana Fatah, said police detained him without charge for six days at a prison in Chamchamel in October, after he wrote an article accusing the judiciary of lacking independence from the main political parties. The police accused him of defaming the judges but did not charge him with any offense.

Human Rights Watch expressed its concern about the crackdown on free speech in meetings in November with officials of the regional government’s Department of Foreign Relations and the Asayish. In response, one official said that, “Talk of corruption cannot be tolerated.” Officials said that detained journalists were liars and were “violating the human rights of the government,” in one official’s words.

Article 2 of the Kurdistan Press Law (Law number 35 of 2007) protects journalists’ right to “obtain information of importance to citizens and relevant to the public interest from diverse sources.” The law also says that journalists are protected against arrest for publishing such information, and requires the regional government to investigate and punish “anyone who insults or injures a journalist as a result of his work.” The law says that a journalist may not be charged with defamation if “he has published or written about the work of an official or a person entrusted with a public service…if what he has published does not go beyond the affairs of the profession,” although the law does not define these terms.

The regional government should respect the Press Law and end the harassment of journalists and other critics, Human Rights Watch said. Parliament should enact a freedom of information law that guarantees the public’s right to know, and appropriate access by journalists to information held by government and public institutions.

“Rather than subjecting journalists and other critics to arrest and other punitive measures for expressing dissent or exposing alleged corruption, the KRG authorities should be upholding free speech,” Whitson said. “The authorities need to investigate and punish cases of abuse of this right, as their own Press Law requires, and hold those responsible for abuse to account.”

Arrests, detentions, and other abuses of the rights of journalists and government critics in the Kurdistan Region have taken place in a climate of impunity, with no prosecutions of members of the Asayish or other security forces for exceeding their powers or breaching detainees’ rights.

Niyaz Abdullah of the Metro Center for Defending Journalists, a local media freedom group, told Human Rights Watch that the center had documented over 100 complaints about breaches of journalists’ rights that authorities have not investigated. “The government is ignoring the laws in place that require it to investigate abuses and harassment of journalists, and to hold the wrongdoers accountable,” Abdullah said.

In its year-end report, the Metro Center documented 21 cases of alleged physical assaults of journalists, including 1 armed assault, 50 arrests, 34 instances of security forces confiscating journalists’ equipment, and 5 death threats against journalists. When Human Rights Watch questioned the regional government’s failure to investigate complaints of abuses in detention, a senior Asayish official first denied that any complaints had been made against the Asayish and then, when confronted with evidence to the contrary, said that those who made the complaints were liars.

In March, Human Rights Watch documented police beatings and detention of journalists as they covered demonstrations marking the anniversary of protests that began on February 17, 2011 and then spread throughout the Kurdistan Region. In the year following the start of those protests, security forces killed at least 10 protesters and bystanders, and injured more than 250 others.

“Sadly, the Kurdistan Regional Government today looks less and less like the open and thriving democracy it paints itself to be,” Whitson said. “By undermining legal guarantees for free speech, the KRG is undermining one of the basic pillars of a free society.”

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