The 2022 world press freedom index by the Reporters Without Borders has listed Iraq among the 10 worst countries for journalists due to the ongoing violations. The ranking shows that Iraq is even more dangerous than Syria which is suffering from a continuous chaos since 2011.
Basra Network, a non-governmental civic society organization based in south of Iraq, said in a report that dozens of violations against journalists have been recorded in Iraq in the recent months and no one has been prosecuted as the perpetrators allegedly are “unknown groups”.
Using Official Institutions in Violations against Press
The Basra Network warned that the official state institutions are often used to give instructions to the media, and when the instructions are not welcome, journalists are arrested, programs are banned, and organizations are suspended.
According the latest world ranking which includes 180 countries, Iraq comes in the 172nd place, after Syria, Palestine, Yemen and Egypt. This could itself explain why journalism is among the riskiest careers one could pursue in Iraq.
Militias Further Limited Freedom of Press
While the Iraqi Constitution highlights the need for promoting freedom of press and freedom of expression, the militias and armed groups, especially those affiliated with Iran and operating under the command of the Hashd al-Shaabi, have further worsened the situation, the Basra Network added, explaining that these militias are responsible for several abductions, targeted attacks, and assassinations across the country.
In a previous statement made to Al Jazeera, Hadi Jalo Maree, head of Iraqi Observatory for Press Freedom, said violations against journalists are recorded almost on a daily basis in Iraq, including physical assault, confiscation of equipment, prevention from coverage, and banning programs.
Over 500 Journalists Killed Since Liberation of Iraq
Since the liberation of Iraq in 2003, more than 500 journalists have been killed across Iraq, according to Maree who noted that official government forces were responsible for some of the killings while others were blamed on foreign forces, militia groups, and terrorist organizations.
Silence or Death
Journalists regularly receive threats from the militia groups which are affiliated with political factions, Mohammed Kubaisi, an Iraqi journalist told Al Jazeera, noting that they will be dead if they do not take the first warnings serious and follow the instructions of these militia groups.
Kubaisi said that the assassination of Ahmed Abul Samad, a reporter with Dijla news channel, and his cameraman in 2020, was an alarming example of such reckless actions. Abdul Samad was said then to be killed for a report he had prepared.
Perpetrators Enjoy Immunity
“In recent years, many journalists have been killed by armed groups, both Jihadist organizations and militias. Such killings rarely lead to investigations and those responsible go unpunished,” Reporters Without Borders wrote in description of freedom of press in Iraq.
“Death threats and abduction are also often used to terrorise and silence journalists. Influential, high-profile journalists used to be the main targets of this form of intimidation but nowadays it is also used against lesser-known journalists,” it added.
Kubaisi explained that the authorities in Iraq have failed to bring the perpetrators behind the violations against journalists to justice, and announcing that these violations were carried out by “unknown groups” is the easy way to make the cases forgotten. In some rare cases, he noted, if the person committing the crime is arrested, no investigations will dig deeper to find out those who ordered the assassination, and the case of Iraqi security expert Hisham al-Hashimi is just one example of such an approach.
“Baghdad Crying for Journalists”
Speaking to Al Arabiya Al Jadeed newspaper earlier this month, Iraqi writer and journalist Ayad Dilemi referred to a report by an international outlet in 2004 with the title “Baghdad Rains Newspapers”. He said the article back then highlight the open space created for hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and new media organizations after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
However, he said, with every year that passed, the situation for journalists deteriorated in Iraq and brought the country from 163rd to 172nd in the world ranking, to the extent that “Baghdad is now crying for journalists”.