Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Iraqi authorities and public to avoid trampling on journalistic freedoms after reporters were targeted while trying to cover the storming of the Iraqi parliament by supporters of Iraq's biggest opposition movement.
"In times of political instability and social unrest, the media should not be targeted or become the focus of popular anger," said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF's Middle East desk. "We urge the authorities and civil society to be vigilant about the need to respect press freedom and journalists' safety."
Throughout the country, media outlets have been attacked and TV crews have been harassed and interrupted while filming protests ever since Iraq's political crisis came to a head on 27 July when supporters of Shia opposition leader Moqtada Al-Sadr forced their way into Baghdad's highly protected "Green Zone," where the main power centres are located, and then stormed parliament twice.
Al-Sadr, who is opposed to Iran, called for this show of force in protest against Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani's candidacy for the post of prime minister, which is backed by the Coordination Framework, a rival, pro-Tehran Shia alliance of Al-Sadr opponents including former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki.
Iraq has been unable to form a stable government since last October's parliamentary elections because of disagreements between the various political blocs. In June, Al-Sadr forced all of his parliamentary representatives to resign although they constituted the biggest single bloc in the Iraqi parliament.
It is against the backdrop of this deep political crisis that journalists are repeatedly being prevented from doing their job. The latest targets include an Al-Iraqiya TV crew that was surrounded by protesters in the Green Zone yesterday and prevented from filming. In a video sent to RSF by the Press Freedom Advocacy Association, an Iraqi NGO, one of the protesters tells Ahmad Aram and Ahmad Majed to stop filming because their TV channel is linked to the government.
Protesters closed the Alforat TV bureau in the southern city of Basra on 29 July in reaction to statements by its owner, Ammar Al-Hakim, regarded as hostile by Al-Sadr supporters. While broadcasting live in Baghdad on 30 July, Al-Mayadeen TV crew members Abdullah Badran, Zaid Khaled and Abdullah Saad were injured by a stun grenade thrown by riot police seeking to disperse protesters trying to enter the Green Zone.
"I cannot confirm that we were deliberately targeted, but the grenades and teargas should have been fired lower down, as we saw it done during our coverage of previous protests," RSF was told by Badran, who sustained a thigh injury. As Saad tried to get away, he was harassed and pushed by someone, falling to the ground and twisting an ankle. Doctors diagnosed a sprain.
While filming the situation in Najaf (a city 160 km south of Baghdad) on 30 July, Al-Baghdadia TV reporter and Studio 9 presenter Ali Thabhawi was badly beaten by a supporter of the leader of a local branch of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia political party backed by Iran, and had to be taken to hospital.
He told RSF that he would need an operation because his nose and several teeth were broken. "Although they were the ones who attacked me, they have filed a complaint against me and accuse me of falsifying the facts," he said. He linked this attack to the criticism of the government he had voiced in his media appearances.