photo: Eddy van Wessel


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Silencing journalists by fear

Being a journalist in Iraq is not simple. And that does not only go for the local journalists, who have many reasons to complain and many of whom resort to self censorship to be able to work. But it only is when  foreign journalists also get into problems, that the world realizes how difficult the situation really is.

article image
picture DC4MF
I am quoting news of this week:

A French journalist who had been held in jail for three weeks in Iraq for allegedly taking photographs
of security installations without permission, was released on bail on Thursday.

Nadir Dendoune was arrested while taking photographs for La Monde Diplomatique compiling a series of reports to mark ten years since the US invasion of Iraq. He claimed to have been photographing a water treatment plant, but was accused of capturing the intelligence services headquarters.

An Iraqi official told AFP: “We released him but still have many doubts about him.” 

Photographers and cameramen have an impossible job in Iraq. Outside Kurdistan more than inside, but always the question is when you pass a checkpoint and say you are a journalist, where the cameras are. Once I passed a checkpoint in Kurdistan after I had been taking pictures of the beautiful nature, with my camera still in my hands, and  the guard told me to step out and show him the pictures I had taken. I refused, and got the help of his boss, but in Bagdad this can end a lot less pleasantly, as the adventure of Dendoune shows.

For everything a cameraman needs a permit, however simple. I remember a colleague who was shooting a picture one morning of the early sun on a mosque in Sulaymaniya, and got stopped by security police. Why? Well, why did he have to make a picture of the mosque? Was he going to give it to someone for an attack on the mosque, perhaps..?

My colleague and friend, Silver Camera winner 2012 Eddy van Wessel can tell you about problems with police in Iraq too. He tries to show the world what is happening in Iraq, and I have seen a few heated moments at Baghdad checkpoints trying to stop him from doing just that.

Sometimes it seems that Saddam's heritage still lingers, with his fear of spies and opposition. Of course, many of the soldiers and policemen have not been taught what the rights of the different groups in the society are, and many also just want to show their power by flexing their muscles. I have trained security police in Iraqi Kurdistan on working with media, and remember one discussion with a Kirkuki policeman who was adamant that any journalist might be a spy for the Iranians and for that reason could never be allowed to work freely.

The fate of Nadir Dendoune has sent a wave of fear through the community of journalists and stringers in Iraq. Because of him, my plans to go to Baghdad for stories had to be shelved, as my stringer was afraid I - or Eddy, who would go too, would also get into trouble too. Now that Dendoune is released, we might reconsider again.

We are waiting for his story though. The news is that 'the journalist is in good health'. What does that sentence mean, after three weeks in an Iraqi prison? Although they are said to be better than ten years ago, it cannot be a very nice place to be.

And how about this? Dendoune's fixer Haqi Mohammed and a man who allowed Dendoune to stay at his home in Baghdad were also freed, with all three having paid bail of 10 million Iraqi dinars (about $8,330) each, according to a security official.

picture AKnews
Who will bail me and my fixer out, if we are arrested? So, let's face it: the Iraqi security police did a good job. They scared the shit out of us journalists. We no longer know what to expect. And that means the authorities have found the most effective way of censorship. Just make sure they do not come.

Then nobody reports on the demonstrations of the Iraqi Sunni's that have been going on for weeks now. Then Iraqi's will get the impression that all is quiet, there is no opposition against the government. Then people will keep quiet. Simple thoughts, but I am sure many in power in Iraq think that way.

So guys, let's show them they are wrong! Let's do our jobs, and let's get out there!

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