Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Reporters Claim Harassment

Iraqi journalists in Baghdad and Amarah say they are victimised by the national security forces.
By Hazim al-Sharaa

Samr Salam knew he and his cameraman were in trouble when a group of Iraqi National Guards came storming up to them as they were filming in al-Azamiya, a neighbourhood in Baghdad.


Salam, a journalist with Swedish TV, had gained permission from nearby United States troops to film, but the Iraqi guardsmen would not listen.


“We tried to persuade them that we were journalists, but they said that we were agents,” he said.


Salam's colleague, cameraman Falah Hassan, said the Iraqi soldiers then took his camera and started to beat him.


“My shoulder is still killing me, I think it's dislocated. I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Hassan.


A growing number of Iraqi journalists like Salam and Hassan say their country's security forces are using excessive and heavy-handed tactics against them.


Defence minister Hazim al-Shaelan was quick to deny the reports of abuse. “The ministry of defence has not recorded a single case of violations committed against any journalist in any part of the capital,” he said.


Al-Shaelan insisted that he believed in the journalistic trade, but cautioned, “when it wants to have two faces, legal measures should be taken against it.”


Hazim al-Shari, a reporter for IWPR and Dijla Radio in the city of Amarah, says it is common for journalists in southern Iraq to suffer abuses. It's considered quite normal for security forces to arrest journalists or to prevent them from filming or entering voting stations.


Al-Shari said a policeman recently came up to him at a polling station, took his digital camera from him and deleted all the photos he had taken.


The reporter said that despite having the right identification required by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, IECI, "I was detained for two days by National Guards because there were no [ID] badges like mine in Amarah.


“This is negligence on the part of the IECI, which has failed to protect the 'fourth estate' from the police and National Guard."


Said Hassan, a member of the Iraqi National Guard, suggested that his colleagues were firm but fair.


Reporters sometimes go places they shouldn't in order to get a story or pictures, he said, adding, “If we have been strict with journalists or other people, or if we have investigated them more than is necessary, it is because the security situation forces us to do so.”


The allegations come less than a week after the United States-based group Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing Iraqi security forces of systematically abusing prisoners. The report was based on interviews with 90 detainees.


Interior minister Falah al-Naqeeb said his ministry would investigate all the abuse charges relating to detainees.


Hazim al-Sharaa is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


More IWPR's Global Voices

Why Did Cuba Jail This Journalist?
Rights defenders say that unusually harsh punishment reflects wider troubles for Havana regime.
Under A Watchful Eye: Cyber Surveillance in Cuba
Cuba's Less Than Beautiful Game