Violence against journalists and restrictions on media have worsened in the past year in Iraq, a local rights group said, in a country already thought to have among the worst press freedoms in the world.
The statement by the Iraq-based Journalism Freedoms Observatory (JFO), issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, voiced concern over what it said were arbitrary arrests, restrictions on movement and reporting and attacks on media workers, including some by security forces.
“JFO has documented a noticeable increase in the rate of violence against journalists/media workers and restrictions imposed on their work,” it said in a statement released late Tuesday.
“Multiple bills are being introduced by the government, which threaten to severely limit freedom of the press, general freedom of expression and Internet use.”
It added that Iraq's security deals “with a journalist holding a camera in the same way the way it deals with those they find possessing car bombs or unlicensed weapons.”
The JFO said three journalists were killed in attacks over the past year, while seven others survived assassination attempts. Thirty-one others were beaten by what the rights group said were uniformed and plain-clothes security forces, and 65 were arrested.
It said it had compiled 84 cases of security forces banning media coverage, 43 cases of them blocking the free movement of reporters and 12 instances of cameras being destroyed or confiscated.
Two media organizations were raided by security forces, the JFO said, and a radio station in southern Iraq was shut down.
The organization also voiced alarm over what it argued were vague and far-reaching laws, from a journalists' protection law that contains provisions for authorities to limit information, and a bill that penalizes Internet use that contravenes ill-defined terms such as “public interests.”
“Official security decrees limiting journalists’ work have been on the rise in the past year, despite government statements to the contrary,” the JFO said.
Iraq regularly ranks near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. It placed 152nd out of 179 countries in media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2011-2012 World Press Freedom Index, down 22 from the year before.