Thursday, March 17, 2011

Iraqi Government Cracks Down On Media Coverage Of Protests

As protests have continued throughout Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to squash the media’s ability to cover them. That has consisted of curfews being imposed to limit reporters’ access to events, arresting and beating journalists, and attacks upon media rights groups and press offices.

Demonstrations in Iraq started in mid-February 2011, and culminated on February 25 with the Day of Rage. On that day there were protests in eighteen different cities in ten provinces that led to 39 deaths, with more wounded. The Iraqi Society for Defense of Press Freedoms said that dozens of reporters were arrested that day by the security forces. In Baghdad, the Al-Diyar TV channel was attacked, its transmission cut, and seven employees arrested, Alsumaria TV had two reporters plus a photographer taken in, and the Society had three members arrested, with two beaten. Photographers from Reuters and Al-Salam were assaulted in Karbala as well. Human rights activists also accused the government of targeting journalists in Mosul and Anbar. The greatest excess however, occurred when four reporters were arrested after the protest in Baghdad in a restaurant. They were taken to a military base, accused of being Baathists, tortured, and then eventually released that night. 

Iraqi journalist beaten by security forces in Basra, 3/4/11 (Journalistic Freedoms Observatory)
Harassment of the media continued into the next month. On March 4, the Day of Regret, five reporters were arrested and beaten in Basra. On March 7, security forces banned live coverage of the protests in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.

Iraqi political and media organizations condemned these incidents. The head of the Iraqiyat Center for Studies and Development stated that the government was threatening the freedom of speech within the country. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory repeated that claim, and believed that this was the result of Baghdad trying to limit coverage of the protests occurring across the country. The Observatory recorded 160 attacks upon the media in the two weeks following the Day of Rage. It found 33 reporters were arrested, 40 were obstructed from reporting and had their equipment damaged or confiscated, twelve were injured by security forces, nine media organizations were raided, with only five able to re-open afterward. Finally, the Journalists’ Syndicate filed charges against the Interior Ministry’s anti-riot unit for its assault upon the reporters in Basra on March 4. 

The situation got so bad that the U.S. Embassy even got involved. In early March it issued a statement saying that the government had to investigate and punish any perpetrators who attacked journalists.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has often been accused of being an autocrat. He has also never been good at taking criticisms. His response to the protests highlights both of those negative traits. The marchers are increasingly focusing their rage against the premier for his inability to improve services, fight corruption, or develop the country. In turn, he has clamped down on the media to limit the spread of the demonstrators’ ideas. He has not only used the security forces to limit the ability of the press to cover the demonstrations, but has subjected them to beatings, arrests, torture, and their offices being raided and vandalized. Journalists are still out in the streets everyday reporting on the marches, but the word has been put out that this could be a dangerous job, which may incur the wrath of the government.


Alsumaria, “Iraqis rally in Baghdad, media banned from liver coverage,” 3/7/11

Associated Press, “Attacks On Media, Activists Spur Fears In Iraq,” 3/8/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Feb. 25th – Bad Day for freedom of press and democracy in Iraq:,” 2/26/11
- “Journalists detained in Basra,” 3/4/11

BNO News, “Over 160 attacks against Iraqi journalists, media institutions in two weeks,” 3/10/11

DPA, “Iraqi premier warns against violence amid protests,” 3/4/11

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Journalists Press Charges Over Assault At Protest,” 3/9/11

Raine, Andrew, “Iraq authorities ‘using violence and bribes’ to curb dissent,” The National, 3/2/11

Reuters, “Iraqi police use water on protesters,” 3/4/11

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