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UN experts concerned about attack on Iraqi journalist covering protests in the country 

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News briefing:

Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: January 2, 2022

UN experts have expressed their concern about the alleged physical attacks, threats and judicial harassment against Iraqi journalist and human rights defender Karar Al-Assaf while covering anti-government protests in Iraq.

The experts stated in a memorandum sent to the Iraqi government on November 1, 2021, that Al-Assaf is a journalist and human rights defender, who worked in Najaf as a correspondent for “Dijla” and “Yalla Iraq” media outlets, focusing on public corruption and mismanagement of public services.

The experts expressed their concerns about the targeting of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists by state security forces and unidentified armed elements in the context of the multifaceted demonstrations related, among other issues, to unemployment, corruption, lack of provision of public services and restriction of public freedoms, which have occurred in Iraq since October 2019.

Death threats and physical assaults: 

The experts explained that Al-Assaf began covering the protests that erupted since October 2019 as a correspondent for the Dijla and Yalla Iraq media outlets in Najaf. In December 2019, he began receiving threats of physical harm on social media from unknown individuals.

The experts added that on June 8, 2020, while covering the protests, Al-Assaf was subjected to a direct physical threat by a colonel in the Najaf police, who asked him to hand over his equipment and then destroyed it in front of him despite confirming that it was safe.

The experts pointed out that Al-Assaf submitted a complaint to the governor of Najaf and its officials, and did not receive a response from them. He submitted a complaint to the court and did not receive a response, and was attacked again on July 27, 2020, and fled on September 1, 2020, to the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, where he continued to receive threats online.

The experts expressed concern about physical attacks, threats and judicial harassment against human rights defender and journalist Al-Assaf, which appears to be directly related to his legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of opinion and expression, as well as peaceful assembly and association.

UN demands from Iraq: 

The experts demanded the Iraqi government to provide any additional information on what steps have been taken to investigate alleged violations, including by members of the security forces, and to state the reason if the reported violations have not been investigated.

The experts also called on Iraq to provide information on the legal basis for the alleged use of force by the security personnel reported in this case, and how such measures are consistent with international human rights law.

The experts also requested the Iraqi government to describe the measures that have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, including civil society, journalists and activists, can work in an enabling environment, and can carry out their legitimate tasks and activities, including participation, monitoring and reporting on protests, without fear of harassment or stigmatization, violence or criminalization of any kind. 

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