Worries over warnings to Iraqi media covering Basra protests

Human rights official defends reporters after threat of arrests

Iraqi security forces prevent protesters from breaking into the provincial council building during a demonstration demanding better public services and jobs and against corruption in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
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Iraq's human rights watchdog has warned against security forces threatening journalists covering protests against poor public services in Iraq’s southern city of Basra.

"We have received videos showing Basra's operation commanders threatening journalists who are covering the protests," Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights member Ali Al Bayati told The National.

“We express our condemnation of such statements which are against civil and political rights that are protected by global declarations of human rights and international conventions,” Mr Al Bayati said.

Residents of Basra have received widespread coverage in their protests over the lack of regular power supply and safe drinking water, which they blame on corruption and misrule that have allowed infrastructure to collapse.

The unrest in Iraq's southern oil hub first erupted last July and continued for months, with government offices including the main provincial council building ransacked and set alight by protesters.

The demonstrations resumed in recent weeks with the beginning of summer, and government officials are bracing for another round of extended protests as temperatures rise further.

Lieutenant General Qasim Nazzal of the military police issued a warning to Iraqi media covering the ubnrest .

“If the reporters don’t have the correct paperwork and authorisation, then we will arrest them,” Lt Gen Nazzal said on Wednesday.

He clarified his statement after complaints from media and human rights groups, saying that individuals “have the right to demonstrate and journalists can also report, but, as long as they do it within their legal limits without causing any obstructions”.

“Journalists in Basra are respected, and their protection is the security force’s duty," he said. "However, the work must be legal and co-ordinated with the authorities."

Mr Al Bayati said it was the media's responsibility to cover "all events everywhere and anywhere, whether it is during times of peace or war".

“Freedom of media is very important to convey people’s voice to the authorities,” he said.

He said the commission made it clear that it can take complaints to the Iraqi attorney general, who will have to refer them to the country’s human rights courts.