Socialist Worker

To show the reality is also a form of resistance

Cameraman Issam Rashid Abdel Rahman found himself in trouble when he filmed protests in Iraq against the occupation. He tells Simon Assaf what happened

Issue No. 1939

Socialist Workers Simon Assaf talks to Issam Rashid Abdel Rahman

Socialist Worker's Simon Assaf talks to Issam Rashid Abdel Rahman (Pic: Guy Smallman)

I was always filming demonstrations and protests against the occupation and for people’s rights. That was what got me into trouble. I was arrested first in 2003, but was released after a few hours. The second time was much worse.

On 30 January 2004, US soldiers appeared at my house at 3am accompanied by an Iraqi policeman in plainclothes. I knew they were probably coming to get me because they were unhappy about my filming. I opened the door, because I feared they would break it down.

I was very polite, because if they think you are rude they will smash up your house and beat up your family. And as I was sharing my house with my elderly father and other family members—including two children, aged two and four—I did not want to give them the excuse for violence. So I said in English, “Please come in, you are welcome.”

They asked me if I was the journalist Issam Rashid Abdel Rahman. I said I was and did not resist. They demanded that I hand over my camera, films, tapes and so on, which I did.

But they thought I was hiding other material. They turned the house upside down. They even searched my 78 year old father and the children. They found nothing—but that didn’t stop them taking me off to prison.

After four days they transferred me to a prison in Adammiya. They tied my hands with plastic cuffs and put a bag over my head so that I did not know if it was day or night.

They did not feed me for days and I had very little water to drink. I was hungry, thirsty and scared.

The greatest discomfort was the cuffs. They kept me tied up and hooded, my hands behind my back, even when I wanted to sleep. I was bound like this for days.

At times I found it difficult to breathe, especially at night. The cuffs also stopped the circulation and my hands became numb. The only act of kindness was from a Mexican, a Latino US soldier, who seeing my discomfort, loosened the cuffs, took the hood off for a while and gave me a can of cola.

Then one night an unknown man entered my cell and began to question me. He asked my name and when I told him he slammed me against the wall and repeated the question. When I told him I was a journalist, a cameraman, he slammed me against the wall again.

I told him that all I did was to film protests like the one calling for women’s rights. I told him they had my camera and my film so he could see what I had done.

He just kept beating me. He did not want information, he just wanted to intimidate me. Then I was transferred to another cell and tortured again. But this time they told me they knew all my family. They named the members of my family and where they worked. They told me they knew about the school my children attended and even their birthdays. It was very intimidating.

They said they would attack my father’s house. I kept asking what they wanted from me and why they were treating me this way. But they did not say. It was just intimidation.

Eventually—but unknown to me—the journalists in Iraq, even the American ones, started to campaign to get me released. The campaign by the NUJ journalists’ union in Britain also helped, and for this I am very grateful.

I was released, but then arrested again. This time it was because I filmed an American attack on a mosque and the beatings and murder of many worshippers gathered for Friday prayers last November.

The Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad was full with up to 1,500 worshippers. About 50 American soldiers and Iraqi National Guards surrounded the mosque. They threw stun grenades and screamed at people to leave the mosque.

So I began to film, and I filmed them beating the worshippers as they were trying to leave the mosque. The soldiers were hitting them with their rifles and kicking them.

People began to panic and others began to shout Alahu Akbar (God is great). When the Americans heard this they opened fire on the worshippers, killing four people and wounding many others.

One US officer saw that I was filming the attack and began to beat me. Luckily, an Iraqi policeman saw that I was being beaten and rescued my camera, which is my livelihood. But he did confiscate the tape.

They took me into one of their vehicles and beat me again. Then some of the soldiers started to stub their cigarettes on my arm. In the end I escaped because I showed them my identity card, which proves I am a mosque guard, one of the volunteers who protects places of worship. After six hours of ill-treatment they finally let me go, thank god.

This is a strange democracy they are bringing to Iraq! Our country has become a place of misery. But many are resisting in any way they can.

The most important resistance for me is that the Shia and the Sunnis stand together and not allow the Americans to divide us. To see Sunnis and Shias demonstrating against the occupation and Shias turning out to help the people of Fallujah—this is resistance. And for me resistance is also the camera—to film and make public what is going on in my country.

Issam Rashid Abdel Rahman is a freelance cameraman who has worked for Channel 4 and many news agencies

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