Iraqi journalists fleeing hardship at home
Basra, Iraq - Iraqis have joined the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe in the past two years and some of those were journalists back home.
The reasons for leaving include persecution by the Islamic State (ISIS) as well as harassment by authorities in Shia-dominated southern Iraq or Kurdish-controlled northern regions.
Sinbad Ahmed al-Shabaky worked as a reporter for pro-Shia Al- Fayhaa television in Mosul before fleeing the northern Iraqi city after it fell under ISIS control in June 2014. He relocated to the Kurdistan region and continued working for Al-Fayhaa.
Shabaky said there were two main reasons he was not going to stop working as a journalist. “The first reason is to follow my father’s path as he worked as a journalist before his death and the second reason is the patriotic feeling I have towards my country Iraq,” he said via WhatsApp.
His wife, Zinah Zuhair, worked for the same TV channel and, along with their three children, had joined him in Dohuk.
However, he said he was prevented from freely doing his work by Kurdish security forces because he reported the flight of internally displaced people in Kurdish-controlled areas; so, in August 2014, he decided to go to Turkey. He stayed there for about six months, before heading to Europe.
He said he travelled to Cyprus, Belgium, Hungary and Austria before ending up in Germany. “I was arrested and locked up in Belgium for 22 days, where they took my fingerprints,” he said. “I suffered a lot in my journeys”.
He wanted to let the world know of the plight of Iraqis but instead works as a cleaner in a newspaper printing facility.
Haider Hilfi is another Iraqi journalist who fled to Germany. He used to work for pro-Sunni Al Baghdadia TV in the southern city of Basra. He said he was arrested by Iraqi authorities while reporting on anti-government demonstrations in 2013.
Following his release, he said he received verbal threats from security officials and pro-government militias. In 2015, he was arrested because of his reporting on a demonstration by students in Basra. He decided to leave Iraq following his release.
“I chose going to Germany because I heard that there is a great freedom for journalists, and there are laws that protect the press from violations,” he said, also in an interview conducted via WhatsApp.
He now works as the Berlin correspondent for the Iraqi TV channel Asia which is associated with the small Iraqi National Congress party.
Hilfi, however, said he was sad that journalists feel forced to leave Iraq. “The emigration of journalists means that Iraq is going to become a country of repression of freedoms,” he said.
There are many journalists who have remained in Iraq, despite suffering and hardship.
Ali Athab, who works as a presenter at the privately owned Hona Baghdad TV, refuses to leave.
“Most scientists, philosophers, novelists and writers were born from the depth of suffering. If we leave Iraq, who will be there to protect the country? We all have a massive responsibility to save our country,” he said.
He said that he was threatened by unknown groups in Baghdad, where he is based. “I will not stop at any red line in my work,” he stressed. “Iraq is exactly like my father. If my father is sick, I will never leave him alone. It is incorrect to leave him with this chronic disease.”
Iraqi authorities said they are doing their best to provide protection to the members of the media.
“There is high-level coordination between our ministry and the Journalists Syndicate in order to reduce any attack on journalists,” said Saad Maan, a media official from the Ministry of Interior.
“We know that there are many cases of assaults against journalists during the course of their work, committed by members of the Interior Ministry but these incidents are considered as personal behaviour that does not reflect the ministry’s policy,” Saad said.
“The Ministry of Interior will punish those who attack journalists and there is guidance by the ministry to facilitate the work of journalists and keep in touch with them as well as give them the information they need.
“The Ministry of Interior has also granted permission to journalists to hold guns, in order to protect themselves from any risk they face.”