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Published On: Fri, Nov 10th, 2017

CPJ calls for immediate relaease of journalist Samir Obeid, detained for criticizing the Iraqi government and Prime Minister

nsnbc : The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls for the immediate release of Iraqi freelance journalist and political commentator Samir Obeid, detained for criticizing the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. nsnbc international editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann called for the immediate release of the journalist and guarantees from the Iraqi government that no repetition of such abuse of human rights will occur.

Charges against journalist Samir Obeid a flagrant violation of human rights - nsnbc editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann. Photo, Samir Obeid - social media.

Charges against journalist Samir Obeid a flagrant violation of human rights – nsnbc editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann. Photo, Samir Obeid – social media.

Commenting on the detention of Samir Obeid and journalists in Iraq, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said “Iraqi journalists are already reporting in some of the most dangerous conditions worldwide. … The Iraqi government should not compound their difficulties by arresting journalists like Samir Obeid for critical reporting. … Iraqi authorities must immediately release Obeid and allow journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal,” he added.

Obeid was originally arrested in Baghdad on October 26 and charged with “spreading rumors and fake news and misleading public opinion,” one day after publishing an article on his Facebook page which has over 24,000 followers. Bail conditions were met with the Iraqi courts and Obeid was expected to be released on October 30. However he remains in detention according to his brother-in-law, Hassan al-Rassam.

Obeid’s case was then referred to criminal court on Wednesday on the charge of “communicating with foreign parties.” Even more disturbing is the fact that neither Obeid’s lawyer nor the family has been able to communicate with him since his arrest.

In an article published on October 21, he wrote that al-Abadi “used the country’s armed forces to retake Kirkuk so that foreign oil companies that helped al-Abadi become prime minister could gain control of oil fields there,” presumably holding 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil according to British Petroleum’s (BP) estimates. Obeid’s arrest was in retribution for this article.

For the second charge, “communicating with foreign parties,” the journalist made a guest appearance on an Al-Jazeera program. Iraqi authorities consider the Qatari-based news station to be allied with foreign countries that plan on “overthrowing the government.” Obeid regularly appeared as an expert and commentator on several television channels including NRT, Tigris TV and ANB.

The Iraqi journalist also provided analysis on Iraqi political issues related to the Kurdish referendum for independence as well as posting several articles and opinion pieces in relation to the ongoing dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region. In one of his articles he wrote “It seems there are some in the Iraqi parliament who are trying to exploit the crisis with the Kurdistan Region in order to put a halt to judicial justice in Iraq which has seen some improvements in recent years against corruption.”

Obeid was also a frequent critic of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and was forced to live in exile in Norway until he returned to Baghdad in 2014. Iraqi PM al-Abadi’s office did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment. International press freedom organizations have also condemned an order by the Iraqi government’s media commission to ban the Kurdish Rudaw television last month as well as a recent crackdown on journalists across the country, including the death of a Kurdish cameraman in Kirkuk. “Iraqi and Kurdish parties must stop using journalists as political pawns to settle their scores,” Mansour said in a statement on October 31.

nsnbc international editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann commented on the detention and charges against Samir Obeid in a telephone conversation Friday evening with nsnbc’s Fahwad al-Khadoumi. Lehmann said:

“The charges against Samir Obeid and his detention are deeply disturbing and must not be allowed to stand without opposition from journalists worldwide. … The charges are a flagrant violation of human rights and show that Iraq has a long way to go with regard to a free press. The growing influence of Iran, one may presume, isn’t exactly helpful in that regard. … The United Nations Human Rights Committee is clear and unambiguous with regard to these problems. …

. … Pertaining the first charge of allegedly spreading false information about Prime Minister al-Abadi one must stress that – and this may surprise some oligarchs in Iraq – even journalists have the right to express an opinion. Speech that is considered insulting, even speech that insults those in position of power, should never be the basis of a criminal prosecution.

. … The second charge of “communicating with foreign parties” would be hilarious if it wasn’t for the fact that our colleague’s freedom and the free press in Iraq was on the line. Communicating is what journalists do, with people at home and abroad. We must call for the immediate release of Samir Obeid and assurances from the Iraqi government that no repetition of such abuse will occur”.

F/AK – nsnbc 10.11.2017

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