First: Introduction

To address Iraq’s human rights record, we have, from the outset, to be aware of the critical regional and international political balances that govern the political construction of the regime. Since the formation of the first transitional government in 2004, the regime has turned into a quota-based political system, or what is known as “Muhasasa”; as the Shias assumed the presidency of the cabinet, while the president (head of state) was Sunni and the Kurds presided over the Parliament. Then, after the 2005 elections, which were boycotted by the Sunnis, a Kurdish leader assumed office as the President of Iraq and the Shia leaders took over the cabinet, while the Sunnis took over the Parliament. The quota-based muhasasa system has become a prevailing political norm up to the present, although there is no article in the Iraqi constitution that provides for this. This government system has triggered sectarian differences and partisan interests which have become the basis for the assignment of government jobs. As a result, unemployment has proliferated in Iraq that a citizen couldn’t find a job opportunity to provide his basic needs, in spite of the country’s rich abundance of oil and natural resources. The ethno-sectarian “muhasasa” political system has also promoted corruption and reinforced patronage networks which run armed groups. These groups defend corruption and use armed attacks, arrests and intimidation as a tool to prevent journalists and free media outlets from tackling corruption issues. Consequently, the name of Iraq has been associated with corruption after it ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world in 2018. (1)

Second: Legislative and legal developments 

On January 12, the Iraqi parliament discussed the draft “Information Technology Crimes Law”, known as the cybercrime law, proposed by the government. It had completed its first reading of the draft law on the same day, but the second reading was postponed over objections escalated by human rights groups, which prompted the parliament to assign the concerned committees to review it and make the necessary amendments. However, the Human Rights Committee in the parliament submitted a request to withdraw the discussion of the draft law from the session’s agenda and the request was accepted. The bill contains four chapters: the first chapter includes definitions and goals, the second one covers punitive provisions, and the third one involves procedures for collecting evidence, investigation and trial, while the fourth chapter includes general and final provisions. (2)

The cybercrime law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression in Iraq since it abounds with vaguely-worded and loose terminology that imposes harsh prison and life sentences as well as hefty fines against Internet activists over vague crimes, such as “undermining the country’s independence, unity or safety or its economic, political, military, or supreme security interests”, and “disturbing public security or damaging the country’s reputation, as well as “harming the national economy and the country’s financial confidence”.

It is worth noting that this bill was first presented to the parliament for discussion in 2011, before it was withdrawn on 6 February 2013 over pressure from civil society organizations.

On 24 June, the Parliament also completed the first reading of a draft law on freedom of expression and opinion and peaceful protests, which was previously introduced by the government in prior sessions. This law was widely criticized by human rights groups because it introduces severe restrictions of the right to freedom of expression and assembly; as Article (7) thereof states that protest organizers would be required to get permission from the head of the Province Administrative Unit to hold public assemblies at least five days in advance. It also gives the head of the Administrative Unit the right to reject any requests to hold public assemblies, while placing on the committee organizing the assembly the burden of appealing against the decision before the court. Furthermore, Article (8) prohibits peaceful assemblies from taking place “in public streets” or to be extended after 10 pm, which constitutes an encroachment on the right to peaceful assembly, not to mention the flexible and loose expressions the law entails; such as “public order” and “public morals”, which can be used in malicious cases against citizens. (3)

Third: Cases with the most impact on freedom of expression 

There are a number of cases that attracted a nationwide interest in Iraq during 2019 including:  the Iraqi authorities and armed groups using violence against protesters objecting to the widespread corruption, unemployment and poor public services, and the Nilesat satellite blocking “Al-Ibaa” News TV after it broadcasted pictures of Iraqi resistance operations against the US occupation in 2003. But the ban was eventually lifted following a large-scale solidarity campaign launched by media institutions and social media activists.

Also, the cold-blooded assassination of the Kurdish NRT television channel’s presenter Amanj Babani and his wife and their young son had attracted the public’s attention in the country during this period.

Fourth: Violations against freedom of expression 

* Prevention from work/ Ban

Barring journalists from news coverage is a common violation committed by Iraqi authorities during 2019. For example, on September 2, riot police in Maysan (400 km southeast of Baghdad) prevented a group of satellite channels’ crews from covering the dispersal of a protest sit-in staged by a group of engineers in front of the Maysan Oil Company. Moreover, “Tigris” (Degla) TV reporter Hassan Issa was physically assaulted by a police officer and his camera was confiscated after deleting its content.

Also on the same day (September 2), Iraq’s media regulator, the Communication and Media Commission (CMC), closed the US-funded Al-Hurra TV’s regional offices for a period of 3 months, accusing the network of slander and bias for airing an investigative report exposing corruption within the country’s religious institutions. The committee also called on “Al-Hurra” to broadcast an official apology for releasing this report.

* Detention

Journalists and social media activists in Iraq are not only subjected to detention or incarceration by security forces or upon court orders, but rather they can be arrested or detained by some government officials. For example, on 22 January, a police force arrested “Al-Mawsaliah” TV reporter Ziyad Tariq Bashir and photojournalist Ahmad Amjad Hamed and took them to the headquarters of the Fifth Regiment, where the authorities tried to force them to sign a pledge declaring that they would no longer carry out any press coverage in the future, and when they refused to do so, they were transferred to the Sarghana police station.

On March 8, the National Security Directorate in Najaf Governorate arrested “NRT Arabia” reporter Hossam Al Kaabi over comments he posted on social media, before he was released the next day (March 9).

In another incident, an unknown force raided at dawn of 25 July the house of the Egyptian journalist, Hani Al-Baroudi, editor-in-chief of Al-Barq News Agency, in the Yarmouk area, west of Baghdad, and took him to an unknown destination.

* Blocking websites/services

Iraq topped the Arab countries in terms of the number of public and private terrestrial channels operating in the country after 2003. The government-funded Iraqi Media Network (IMN) involves a number of TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and daily and weekly magazines. The network is managed by a board of trustees whose members are appointed by the powerful parties and are given pensions after the end of their term.

As for the private TV channels, they are completely controlled by the armed groups, powerful parties, and influential figures in government. Therefore, we find that the weak Iraqi government rarely blocks these channels.

As for the Egyptian “Nilesat” satellite, it blocked on March 3 “Al-Ibaa” News TV which broadcasts from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, for airing pictures of Iraqi resistance operations against the US occupation in 2003.

With regard to the Internet and social media, the Iraqi authorities cut off internet services and blocked social networking websites in some areas, blaming what they described as “rioters”.

For example, during October 2019 protests, the Iraqi authorities sought to ban the pictures and videos that expose their violent attacks on protesters and their attempts to ban communication among them.

A day after the eruption of protests on the first of October, the Iraqi authorities blocked most social media websites before it cut off the internet services, blaming what they described as “rioters” and leaving protesters with no means of communication but the telephone calls.

* Assaults

Killing journalists and opinion activists and launching armed attacks on media facilities are the preferred methods of the corruption networks in Iraq to restrict freedom of expression, and these methods continued to be commonly used throughout 2019. For instance, human rights activist Hanaa Adour was hit by a speeding car on June 14 after delivering a speech on the anniversary of the fall of Mosul City in downtown Baghdad, in which she stressed the need for bringing to account those responsible for Spyker incident which claimed the lives of 1700 Iraqi fighters. She also tackled the fall of the city of Mosul at the hands of ISIS.

In the evening of 16 October, NRT TV channel reporter Amanj Babani, his wife and fellow journalist, and their child were shot dead in a hail of bullets by unknown gunmen while they were in their car near Family Mall in the city of Sulaymaniyah (355 km northeast of the capital, Baghdad). The assailants then fled the scene without being chased or facing any difficulty.

Three satellite channels were burned out by unknown masked men. On 5 October, some arsonists set fire to “Tigris” (Degla) TV headquarters after tying the building’s guards and attacking them.  An armed group also raided the headquarters of NRT Arabic TV, smashed all equipment and severely beat the employees after attacking the police officers around the building. On the same day, unknown gunmen in black cars stormed the headquarters of the Saudi Al-Hadath News Channel office in Abu Nawas Street in the capital Baghdad, destroyed some equipment and telephones, and assaulted the journalists present at the time.

In another violation, Ahmed al-Zawiti, director of the Al-Jazeera office in Iraqi Kurdistan, was beaten by the anti-terrorist forces on July 17, while he was covering the assassination of Turkish diplomats in a restaurant in the city of Erbil.

On 25 September, the Iraqi security forces violently dispersed the protest sit-in organized by a group of high certificate holders in front of the office of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, in the Al-Alawi area, center of Baghdad, demanding installation in their jobs. The dispersal of the sit-in resulted in the injury of a number of protesters along with the journalists who were covering the incident.

With the escalation of the protests that erupted in a number of Iraqi cities on the first of October denouncing the poor public services, widespread corruption and lack of employment opportunities, the security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters at protesters leaving about 104 of them dead and more than 6,100 wounded till the 6th of October. (4)

* Intimidation

Armed groups and Iraqi authorities always use intimidation as an attempt to silence free media and voices critical of the government’s performance. For example, on 3 July, Lieutenant General Qassem Nazzal, al-Basra Operations Commander, threatened the journalists covering the protests witnessed by the blighted city to imprison them if they continue covering what he deemed “unlicensed” protests. (5)

Also, on 6 July, independent journalist Haider Al-Hamdani announced that he had received a series of threats after being tracked by unknown people who traced him at the Rumaitha district in Al-Muthanna governorate. These threats came after al-Hamdani criticized the poor services in the city, emphasized the need to end negative phenomena and provide life necessities to citizens. (6)

In the same context, unidentified gunmen in a white car targeted the house of journalist Fadel Omar, a reporter for “Kurdistan TV” channel affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), at Qaladza district (160 km northeast of Sulaimaniyah), after opening fire at him in the evening of August 9. (7)

Fifth: The most common accusations against freedom of expression

Armed groups and corruption networks in Iraq do not need to level charges or hold trials – even if they are sham- to suppress critical voices that seek to expose their corruption. These groups have so far contented themselves with resorting to violence to crackdown on dissidents. However, there are some remaining accusations that are still being used, including “bias and defamation”, “inciting violence and terrorism”, “secretly taking picture” and “covering unlicensed protests”.

Sixth: Victims

The victims of freedom of speech suppression during 2019 numbered in the thousands, including those who were killed and injured in protests, along with media institutions, journalists and social media activists. The following can be mentioned by way of example:

– About 104 people were killed and 6,000 wounded following their participation in the protests took place in October 2019 denouncing the poor public services, widespread corruption and lack of employment opportunities, in addition to the attack on the group of high certificate holders who organized a sit-in in front of the Prime Minister center’s office in center Baghdad, and the closure of “Al-Ibaa” News TV and the US-funded Al-Hurra TV’s regional office.

The list of victims also include: the guards of the “Tigris” TV channel building in Baghdad, employees of the Arabic NRT channel, and journalists working for the Saudi Al-Hadath news channel in the capital city.

This is in addition to the following:

The Kurdish NRT television channel’s presenter Amanj Babani and his wife and their young son, Haider Al-Hamdani Al-Karar, photojournalist for “ANA Arabia”, “Tigris” (Degla) TV reporter Hassan Issa, Al-Mawsaliya TV channel’s reporter Ziyad Tariq Bashir, photojournalist Ahmed Amjad Hamid, “Tigris” (Degla) TV reporter Anas Youssef and the channel’s cameraman Ahmed Mohamed, “NRT Arabia” reporter in Najaf Hossam Al Kaabi, Egyptian journalist, Hani Al-Baroudi, editor-in-chief of Al-Barq News Agency, Ahmed Al-Zawiti, director of the Al-Jazeera office in Iraqi Kurdistan, independent journalistHaider Al-Hamdani and journalist and “Kurdistan TV” channel reporter Fadel Omar.



  1. Global transparency map, published on “Transparency International” website- Published on: January 29, 2019- Last accessed date: October 8, 2019-
  2. Cybercrime draft law, ublished on the Iraqi parliament website- Published on: January 12, 2019- Last accessed date: October 17, 2019-القراءة-الاولى-لقانون-جرائم-المعلوماتية.pdf
  3. The draft law “Freedom to express opinion, assembly and peaceful protest”- Published on: June 24, 2019- Last accessed date: October 17, 2019-قانون-حرية-التعبير-عن-الرأي-والإجتماع-والتظاهر-السلمي.pdf
  5. A news report, entitled “Basra Operations Leader threatens journalists covering prison protests”, published on the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate’s website- Published on: on July 3, 2019- Last accessed date: October 9, 2019-
  6. A news report entitled “Death threats chase a journalist in Muthanna”, published on “Baghdad Post” on July 6, 2019- Last accessed date: July 6, 2019- Threats – murder – prosecution – journalist – in Al Muthanna
  7. A news report, entitled “Armed Attack on a Journalist’s House, published on “Voice of Iraq ” website on August 11, 2019- Last accessed date: October 9, 2019-’s house /