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01 Apr 2014

ICSSI - Statement: Freedom of expression in Iraq is quickly deteriorating. Human Rights Defenders are at risk.

  • Tuesday, 01 April 2014

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI)

Rome - April 2014

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) calls for the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to visit Iraq on an urgent basis and as a preliminary step to provide protection for human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists in particular.

The initiative calls for the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibility in protecting HRDs, and to start by issuing strict instructions to the security forces and personal guards of public officials: they must not intimidate journalists and HRDs or prevent them from performing their duties. The government should end the impunity of militias who are responsible for violations of freedom of expression, and should provide protection to defenders and journalists targeted by outlaw armed groups.

This statement comes as a reaction to the continuing deterioration in the situation of HRDs in Iraq, where in March of this year at least three journalists have been killed and others have been beaten and insulted, while one HRD has been arrested in Erbil. We refer here to documented cases of violations directed to HRDs and journalists but many other violations occurred in the same month, that we could not record or prove. We denounce and condemn the following facts:

  • the radio journalist Mohamed Bedaiwi Al-Shammari has been killed by elements of the special protection of the Iraqi Presidency;
  • the journalist and caricature painter Ahmed Al-Rubaie died after escaping from Baghdad, where he had been threatened and terrorized by groups that claimed his life;
  • the journalist Wathiq al-Ghadhanfari has been killed in Mosul by an armed group;
  • the HRD Shwan Taha has been arrested by the authorities in Erbil after he expressed criticisms on the lack of independency of the judiciary system in Kurdistan.
  1. 1.      Murdered in daylight by a security officer

One of the officers of the Presidential Protection Guard in Baghdad beat and then shot and killed the journalist Mohammed Bedaiwi Al-Shammari, Director of Radio Free Iraq in Baghdad. The journalist has been assaulted in the daylight and in front of witnesses. The Iraqi government arrested the killer and sent him to trial, but according to Iraqi observers this institutional reaction needs to be followed by tight observation and guidance of all security and military agencies, as attacks against civilians in general and against journalists in particular constantly happen in various parts of Iraq.

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association commented the incident stating: "Some elements of security guards are turning into outlaw militias that assault and beat civilians with impunity". The Civil Development Organization in Sulaymaniyah (CDO) underlined that punishing the attacker is an urgent need, and rejected the attempt by some to politicize the incident, associating the crime to the Kurdish identity of the guard who was an element of the Kurdish Peshmerga before turning to presidential protection. According to CDO, this particular should not turn attention away from the real problem, which is that journalists and HRDs in Iraq are at risk and not protected, all over the country.

This criminal act draws attention again to the violent behavior of Iraqi security and protection forces towards civilian population, after the killing of Karbala Sports Club coach Mohammed Abbas. He died after being severely beaten by members of the Iraqi Special Forces in a stadium while he was trying to prevent them from attacking civilians in the audience in June 2013.

The ICSSI calls on Iraqi authorities to issue tight instructions to all security forces and protection guards to respect civilians in general, and journalists and HRDs in particular, as a major step to ensure the respect of human rights and the safety of Iraqi people.

  1. 2.      When threats and terror lead to death

Iraqi journalists are exposed to multiple risks, they are constantly afraid of being targeted because of their investigative work, or because of their publications. Day after day, threats come from different factions. They may be armed groups suspected of being linked with Al-Qaeda, armed militias operating under the protection of influential parties or directly of governmental authorities, personal security guards of Iraqi politicians or the Iraqi security forces..

The latest victim of multiple targeting was the journalist Wathiq al-Ghadhanfari, director of the Media Office within Nineveh Governor Office, who has been assassinated in the city of Mosul by unidentified gunmen. Instead, the caricature painter and Iraqi journalist Ahmed Al-Rubaie died in Erbil due to quick deterioration of his health, after escaping from the threats and persecution by a well-known militia in Baghdad. The leaders of this militia and some Iraqi politicians threatened him with death for publishing a portrait of the Supreme Leader Of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Khamenei. The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in a statement on Al-Rubaie's death considered it a murder, and declared that the Iraqi government should prosecute those responsible for his death, as they threatened Al-Rubaie publicly, and terrorized journalists of newspaper who published his caricature, adding threats to their families.


The ICSSI demands the Iraqi government to identify and prosecute those responsible for terrorizing Iraqi Journalists, in any province of Iraq, as an essential step to combat restrictions to freedom of expression.

  1. 3.      Kurdistan, the judiciary system against freedom of expression

The human rights activist and HRD Shwan Saber has been arrested in the city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in early March, after criticizing the judiciary in Kurdistan and its lack of independence from the government. Many hoped that the judiciary of Kurdistan would be a model of independency not only for Iraq but for the entire region, and that it would respect those defending this reputation. Instead, public authorities arrested Saber because of his views, and detained him in Erbil prison. Iraqi and Kurdish organizations condemned this act and demanded the immediate release of the HRD, while a number of civil society activists demonstrated in Erbil in front of the headquarters of the judiciary, claiming for his freedom. He has been released on bail but charges against him have not been dropped hence he might be prosecuted, which is a clear violation of freedom of expression according to international law and the Iraqi constitution.

The ICSSI calls for the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Council of the Judiciary of Kurdistan, to drop all charges against the HRD Shwan Saber, as an essential step towards ensuring freedom of expression in Kurdistan.

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