Iraq: Supreme Council for Combating Corruption restricts media freedom; and civil activist on trial
Update: Iraq: On 12 May 2019, the Nineveh Court acquitted Sorour Al-Hussainey and closed the case against her.
The Supreme Council for Combating Corruption in Iraq has enacted restrictions on media freedom related to corruption accusations, which focus on potential libel rather than fighting corruption, reports the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). GCHR is also concerned about the freedom of civil society activists to do their jobs without facing legal action.
On 09 May 2019, the Council held a session chaired by the Prime Minister where it discussed various issues. The Information Office of the Prime Minister said in a statement issued after the meeting that "the Council demanded that evidence be provided for the accusations against government officials in the media and social media networks, by parties and persons regardless of their names and job descriptions within two weeks, otherwise, the Council retains legal action against the perpetrators of these accusations."
The Council's broad-based threat, which includes all traditional and digital media, forms a clear threat to media freedom and constitutes a legal war against broadcasters, journalists and Internet activists, particularly those who work in the field of investigative journalism and address the many files of corruption in the country.
In a separate case, nurse and civil society activist Sorour Abdulkarim Al-Hussainey, the head of Al-Sorour voluntary team, faces trial for her work defending public health. Her team, in cooperation with local government authorities, disinterred hundreds of decomposed dead bodies, left in the aftermath of the war with Dae'sh, from the old district of Mosul in order to avoid chronic diseases among the population in the summer. She herself also trained hundreds of local citizens on first aid.
"The bodies are handed over to the municipality, there is supervision of the health and civil defense, and we have no responsibility for the fate of the bodies as it is the responsibility of the local government," Al-Hussainey said in a previous interview.
However, the former governor of Mosul, Nawfal Al-Aakoub, during his tenure in the province, sued her on the grounds that she was removing corpses from the old district without official approval. On 24 March 2019, the Iraqi Parliament decided to dismiss him on charges of corruption.
The Ninevah Court heard the case against Al-Hussainey, and in its initial session ordered her to pay bail of five million Iraqi dinars (approx. USD$4200) while the trial is ongoing.
GCHR calls on the Iraqi government to protect media freedom and freedom of expression online and off. GCHR further calls on the Iraqi authorities to celebrate and support the work of Al-Hussainey rather than judicially harassing her.