Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Human Rights Watch And Metro Center For Journalists’ Rights Document Limits On Press Freedom In Iraq

Human Rights Watch recently released its annual global report. It’s section on Iraq had the usual criticisms of the government for not following due process to prosecuting Islamic State members for association alone not any specific crime and relying upon confessions obtained through torture and abuse. It also singled out Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi who said he stood with the nation’s protests but did nothing to protect or compensate them since he’s been in office. One interesting tidbit was the limits the central and regional Kurdish governments place upon the press.


Iraq has various media outlets that represent a variety of views but they do not have full freedom of the press. They operate in an environment with limits placed by the government. Officials have used defamation laws which make it illegal to insult government officials whether the accusations or true or not against journalists and news companies to silence them. The result is that reporters covering corruption by high level officials or abuses by the security forces risk being brought up on charges. In April 2020 for instance, Reuters had its license suspended for three months by the Communications and Media Commission and was fined 25 million dinars ($21,000) for an article that said COVID-19 cases were much higher than the government claimed. Baghdad was embarrassed by this story so it moved against Reuters. The suspension was ended early likely because it was a Western entity, but these threats are much more serious for Iraqis. The Kurdistan Regional Government has similar laws. The Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy released its annual report saying the KRG took harsh measures against press freedom to silence dissent in 2020. Journalists and outlets were prevented from covering stories, arrested, charged with defamation, had equipment taken and destroyed, and four TV channels were shut down and jammed for their coverage of protests.


Not mentioned by either group were the threats and bribes that also limit coverage. Iraqi journalists were threatened by Hashd elements for reporting on the last few years of demonstrations. This usually occurred over social media and text messages. The Iraqi media also relies upon government press conferences and releases for the vast majority of their stories. Officials routinely give out envelopes full of cash to reporters to make sure the official version is what gets mentioned.


The overall result is that the country’s media largely report what the government wants. Corruption can be mentioned but naming high officials is usually not allowed. When anti-government protests start the media can expect to be harassed, arrested, threatened, etc by the security forces. The cash handouts ensure outlets repeat official announcements. Stepping out of bounds can result in lawsuits and more. It’s an environment where pro-government stories are the norm and the state predominates.




Human Rights Watch, “Iraq, Events of 2020,” January 2021


NRT, “’Violence And Intimidation’: 385 Violations Against 291 Journalists, Media Agencies In Kurdistan Region During 2020: Metro Center,” 1/16/21


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