Sign up for weekly updates

Election violence harrowing; scores of journalists assaulted

Election-day violence and assaults on journalists threaten free expression.
Election-day violence and assaults on journalists threaten free expression.

via Human Rights Watch

As Iraqis went to the polls on 7 March to select 325 members of parliament, Human Rights Watch urged all political groups to make freedom of expression central to their platform to be sure the next government respects press freedom and minority rights. Meanwhile, countless journalists in Iraq Kurdistan faced brutal attacks leading up to and on election-day, because of political rivalry, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

In the second general election since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, 25 people were killed in a series of bombings and mortar attacks, say news reports. In Baghdad, "loudspeakers in mosques exhorted people to turn out to vote like 'arrows to the enemy's chest,'" reports "The Guardian".

The election is a critical opportunity to focus on the importance of free expression in cultivating democracy. But journalists have been targeted for assassinations and kidnapping - 20 media workers were killed in the past two years - and are now facing harassment and legal action from the government. "Authorities have denied media accreditation to critical journalists, and have used the country's broad libel laws to sue commentators who have criticised their performance in government," says Human Rights Watch.

During 2009 provincial elections, journalists were harassed, arrested, detained and beaten, and prevented from entering polling stations. This year, Iraq's Communications and Media Commission issued new regulations ahead of the March elections to prohibit broadcasters from "inciting violence or sectarianism" without any clear stipulations of what this entails. The vagueness of the regulations permitted authorities to carry out arbitrary censorship; media organisations ran the risk of suspension, fines and equipment confiscation.

Women, minorities and men suspected of homosexual conduct are also vulnerable and under attack, simply because of their effort to freely express themselves. Insurgent groups have targeted women who are politicians, civil servants, journalists and women's rights activists, and also assaulted women on the street for what they deem to be "immoral" or "un-Islamic" behaviour or dress.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, independent media are protesting free expression violations by security forces, reports RSF. There is an ongoing savage crackdown on independent media to stop coverage of corruption and political deals. "You have guns, we have pens," was the message independent newspaper "Hawlati" (Citizen) printed on its front page on 24 February in defiance. Anwar Bazgr, the head of a press freedom defence committee formed by the Union of Kurdistan Journalists, called on political parties to respect a law protecting journalists that was passed by Kurdistan's parliament.

Also in Iraq Kurdistan, three journalists were attacked by gunmen when they took photos of militants threatening people on the street on 4 March. Two other journalists were beaten by police while filming electoral fraud the same day. Violence continued on election-day itself. Independent journalists were blocked from entering voting stations or taking photos of the premises, beaten, their cameras confiscated, detained. Many journalists were assaulted by security forces, says RSF.

Related stories on

Latest Tweet:

Cold blooded murder of Ghanian Ahmed Hussein Suale, member of investigative team of journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas m…

Get more stories like this

Sign up for our newsletters and get the most important free expression news delivered to your inbox.