Kurdistan-based media watchdog calls for protection of journalists facing threats
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A press freedom advocacy group based in the Kurdistan Region on Saturday called on the regional and federal governments as well as international organizations to protect workers of the Dijlah media group who had to flee to the autonomous region after receiving death threats.
Since late August, several workers of the Jordan-based broadcaster had to leave their posts or go into hiding after the station aired programming that Shia Muslims deemed offensive as members of the sect were marking the Ashura commemorations.
Dozens of people stormed Dijlah TV's Baghdad headquarters on August 31, setting it on fire after continuing to broadcast music on the day leading up to the Ashura rituals. The incident took place hours after a court ordered the arrest of the channel's owner, Jamal Karbouli, a politician and businessman.
Since then, the channel's reporters and camera crew continue to face threats, prompting at least six of them to resign or go to the Kurdistan Region. The journalists confirmed this in a recent letter that pleaded with media advocacy groups to defend them.
The Metro Center for Defending Journalists' Rights in a statement called on authorities in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq to protect "media professionals and civil activists, who fled to the cities of the [Kurdistan] Region, especially Erbil and Sulaimani, after receiving assassination threats."
"The last group that arrived in the Region is from the Dijlah satellite TV station," including its "correspondents in the central and southern cities of Iraq, after the burning of the channel's headquarters in Baghdad."
"Those media professionals announced their resignation from the channel, and apologized for broadcasting songs on the tenth [day] of the holy month (Muharram)," despite them having "no association with that channel."
The Dijlah media group consists of multiple entertainment and political news channels. The controversial programming before the Ashura commemorations came from Dijlah's music station.
The Metro Center stated that since late August, "several parties have launched an organized campaign" targeting the journalists, who, along with their families, received death threats.
"It is really unfortunate that some of these threats were issued by governors and directors of security services," the advocacy group added, noting that the security forces were prevented from protecting the Dajlah TV employees, forcing them to flee and seek refuge in the Kurdistan Region.
Dijlah journalists have previously been targets of violence for their coverage of pressing issues such as anti-government protests and crackdown of Iranian-aligned militias on activists.
The Metro Center also criticized the channel itself for not being outspoken on the hardship the journalists face, adding that the station "did not even check on their safety, even delayed their wages."
"The Metro Center appeals to the Prime Minister of the Region, as they have sought refuge in the region. It also appeals to the Prime Minister of the Iraqi government and international organizations concerned with human rights and the rights of journalists, in particular, to provide material and moral assistance to these people in a way that secures their lives," the statement added.
The Center also called on the Prime Minister of Iraq to secure the journalists' return to their homes, to punish all government officials, security personnel, and militias "who terrorized these young men and their families."
Editing by Khrush Najari