The state-run Iraqiya television station found itself in hot water after political analyst Sarmad al-Tai made a scathing critique of President of the Supreme Judicial Council Faiq Zidan, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and slain Iran Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Journalists revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that security forces were deployed to the station’s headquarters on Thursday to protect it against threats from pro-Iran factions.
The factions had turned to social media to openly threaten the channel and the organizers of the show from where the criticism was made.
On Wednesday, Al-Tai appeared on the live show that is hosted by Saadoun Mohsen Damad.
Responding to a question about the judiciary and how to improve it, he replied: “Mr. Faiq Zidan knows that he can’t play with fire forever. He is delusional in believing that the youth, who believe in change, will fear arrest warrants that he issues against them. I am one of them, and I challenge him to intimidate us.”
“We have confronted Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, who has slaughtered and killed us. The nooses are around our necks and Iraq is greater than them. Iraq is greater than Faiq Zidan, who manipulates the Supreme Court and abuses the judiciary to launch a political and security coup against the results of the parliamentary elections.”
The elections were held in October and dealt a strong blow to pro-Iran factions.
Al-Tai lived for years in Iran’s city of Qom where his family fled the oppression of the former regime in Iraq. He studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) in Qom, but in recent years has adopted anti-Iran views. He also believes that the Iraqi judicial authorities are being pressured by the politicians and that they are abusing their position to silence rivals.
His severe criticism on live television marked a precedent in Iraq, made even more significant since it was made on a channel that usually sides with the government and is funded by the people.
The show has since been taken off the air.
Al-Tai’s remarks were both applauded and slammed in Iraq.
The Iraqi Media Network regretted his comments, saying it was “not responsible for the guests’ abuse of the freedom of expression accorded to them.”
It added that it reserves the right to sue whoever abuses this freedom to “insult national figures and constitutional institutions, especially the judiciary,” it added.
The judiciary issued an arrest warrant against Al-Tai, who resides in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
He already has an outstanding warrant for his arrest issued in wake of a complaint filed by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
For his part , Zidan issued a strongly worded statement against Iraqiya, saying he regretted that it hosted a figures who “have a negative (extremist) view of the judiciary.” It also regretted that it airs a show that is hosted by a journalist who has “negative and extremist views, as well.”
Some parties, lawmakers and organizations rejected the threats against Iraqiya, Al-Tai and Damad.
The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq questioned Zidan’s criticism of Al-Tai and Damad, whom it said is “known for his professionalism and objective positions in a show he has hosted for over a decade.”
In a statement, it said a television station that is funded by the people should include all points of view and host everyone, regardless of their convictions.
The Iraqi people share different views and convictions and the channel cannot simply host guests who express the same positions based on political demands.
It slammed authorities for halting Damad’s show, urging caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to “assume his responsibilities and fulfill the pledges he made two years ago in protecting press freedom.”
Independent lawmaker Sajjad Salem tweeted his support to press freedom and freedom of expression.