DW's Jaafar Abdul Karim, a popular TV host in the Arabic-speaking world, and his production team canceled plans to film in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad after facing threats.
Abdul Karim and other staff members of Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, had to leave Iraq on short notice on Thursday morning due to security concerns.
The team traveled to the Iraqi capital to film a new episode of "JaafarTalk." The production was meant to take place in cooperation with the Iraqi broadcaster Al-Rasheed. DW has criticized the incident as an "unacceptable" attack on press freedom.
"JaafarTalk" is one of the most viewed TV formats in the Arabic-speaking world. The weekly DW talk show deals with topics that are considered taboo in the region, including violations against human rights or lacking gender equality for women.
On the social media platform TikTok, "JaafarTalk" is the most successful channel produced by a German media company, with over 1.4 million followers, according to rankings published by media trade magazine The Fix.
'JaafarTalk' host threatened with arrest
In its latest episode, the show planned to deal with unemployment rates among youths, as well as political participation and women's rights. The production was planned to take place in Baghdad's Zawraa-Park.
Representatives from Iraq's protest movement and government representatives were due to take part in the show. Some 50 audience members were also invited.
But Abdul Karim said he and his team were put under increasing pressure by high-ranking Iraqi officials.
An Iraqi media outlet circulated a video in which it accused the DW host of wanting to spread "abnormal and perverse" sexual behaviors in Baghdad. The video included clips from earlier "JaafarTalk" episodes that dealt with homosexuality. The media outlet called on Iraqi authorities to stop the filming of the new episode.
Iraq's Commission for Communications and Media suddenly demanded that DW acquire a special filming permit, despite DW's partners already having applied for the normally required permits in advance, which had already been granted.
Representatives from the Iraqi Interior Ministry then came to a hotel on Wednesday evening where Abdul Karim and his team were staying.
According to DW, the Interior Ministry representatives informed Abdul Karim that he was not allowed to continue his work without a special permit. If he did not comply, he would face arrest. The Iraqi government could no longer guarantee his safety, the representatives said.
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"This was an arbitrary action against us," Abdul Karim said. "A day before the show was to be filmed, new demands and restrictions were issued by the hour."
Manuela Kasper-Claridge, DW's editor-in-chief, criticized the actions of Iraqi officials.
"It is alarming how journalists are being treated in Iraq. The threats made against our team and presenter Jaafar Abdul Karim by forces in Iraq that seek to put an end to freedom of expression are entirely unacceptable," she said.
"The JaafarTalk program reaches millions of people, because DW provides a platform for important debates in the region. Even though we were forced to cancel the show, we will continue our reporting on developments in Iraq," Kasper-Claridge added.
DW has lodged a protest with the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin against the treatment of the broadcaster's employees and for hindering journalistic work.
"This large-scale coercion by the Republic of Iraq is an unprecedented restriction of press freedom," the German international broadcaster said in a statement.
Freedom of expression is severely restricted in general in Iraq. According to the Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Iraq is currently ranked at 172 out of 180 countries in the index.
According to figures gathered by Reporters Without Borders, nearly 300 journalists have been killed in Iraq over the past 20 years.
In Iraq, Shiite militias have a particularly great influence on the government. The armed groups are closely linked to the regime in neighboring Iran. While they are officially subordinate to the Iraqi prime minister, they tend to operate independently of the government.
This article has been translated from German.