Geneva, 3 September 2019
The Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) strongly condemns the continued and systematic violations by Iraqi authorites of restricting press freedoms and journalistic work in Iraq. In this regard, GICJ considers the suspension of the licence of Al-Hurra television channel and the closure of its offices by the Iraqi authorities to be a direct violation of Iraq’s international obligations, especially those stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Iraq ratified in 1977. Article 19 of the Covenant stipulates the right to freedom of speech, including the right to seek, receive and impart information by various forms of media without restriction. GICJ calls for the immediate cancellation of this illegal decision.
The Iraqi media and communications authority announced on Monday, 2 September the closure of all Al-Hurra offices for a duration of three months, accusing the channel of “bias, defamation and lack of professionalism”. This came in response to an investigative report aired by the channel on Saturday, 31 August, tackling the existence of corruption within the Sunni and Shia Islamic endowments (or Waqf) including institutions linked to the Shia Supreme Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, and the head of the Sunni Waqf Abdul Latif Al-Hamim. The report also pointed to ties between religious institutions and armed groups (militias).
On its part, Al-Hurra explained that its report is a “fair and professional investigation”. The channel added that throughout the development of the report, it had offered the people and institutions concerned sufficient time to respond to its [Al-Hurra's] claims but they refused to do so. The channel asserted that the right to reply is guaranteed to all those mentioned in the report, whether the people or institutions concerned.
The 25 minute televised report entitled “The Sacred Corruption in Iraq" tackled in great detail the issue of corruption in the Iraqi religious institutions (Sunni and Shia Waqf) and proved it with facts and compelling evidence, questioning the use of the huge amounts of money that those people and institutions manage in religious shrines in the province of Karbala while people in neighbouring regions are starving and living in utter misery.
GICJ is closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and believes that what came up in the report is nothing surprising, and it is not a surprise to many Iraqis and NGOs in Iraq that GICJ contacted. The rampant corruption in all Iraqi state institutions and other related authorities is one of the topics that GICJ has addressed in its activities with the United Nations bodies. GICJ has documented how corruption is impeding and preventing the enjoyment of Iraqis’ economic and social rights. GICJ believes that exposing institutions that practice or cover up corruption is in the interest of human rights and reiterates its condemnations of the decision of the Iraqi authorities and considers it a new low in Iraq’s freedom of speech record.
It is worth noting that Iraq ranks 156 out of 180 countries on the Global Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders earlier this year. It confirmed that journalists in Iraq are often subject to armed attacks, forced suspension of work, arrests or threats from militias with close ties to the authorities as well as threats from the armed forces with total impunity, no accountability and with no serious official investigation.
Click here to see the televised report (in Arabic) "The Sacred Corruption in Iraq"