In front of first-grade students, three security guards with pistols and Kalashnikov rifles kicked us out of the school gate as if we were criminals, after that the General Director of Education, who treated us rudely, prevented us from covering the ceremonies of the start of the new school year. This is how the story began, but the end was completely different.
We did not know until now why the director of education has turned so angry and upset all of a sudden, and what happened in just two minutes at the end of the ceremonies of the beginning of the school year (2021-2022) on November 1st, which took place on the first of November at Al-Kindi Primary School in Kirkuk Northern Province.
I am Karwan Al-Salihi, I have been working in the field of journalism for more than ten years, and during most of that period I was working for the (KirkukNow) Media Outlet, which deals posts articles and events in Kirkuk and the disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil. This time, the violation did not occur on the battlefronts or during the demonstrations, but rather took place in an educational institution and by the first person responsible for the education sector in my city.
Before the storm
The start of the new school year was news for me and my media organization, worthy of coverage, given that last academic year was intermittent and most of the time it was electronic and online due to the repercussions of the Corona epidemic.
A day before the dawn of the new academic year, we were invited to attend the bell-ringing ceremony at Al Kindi Primary School via a message posted in a WhatsApp chat group for Kirkuk journalists.
Video: Director General of Kirkuk Education, Abd Ali Touma gets angry at journalists and ask them to leave.
Following the confirmation by KirkukNow newsroom, we were at Al-Kindi School at 7:40 am. I was not the only reporter there, as I notices lenses of cameras for Al-Iraqiya, Anadolu and Kirkuk satellite TV channels.
Every year, we are used to cover the ceremonies of the beginning of the school year live from inside one of the schools.
The broadcast began on the (Kirkuk Now) Facebook page at 7:51 minutes. The broadcast lasted for more than 43 minutes. During the ceremony, the Director General of Kirkuk Education, was aware from the beginning of the presence of the media in the school.
The ceremonies came to an end, the Director of Education was invited to ring the bell for the start of the school year. He carried the bell and wanted to stand behind the podium, but a representative of one of the telecommunications companies that provided assistance to the school and the education of Kirkuk asked the principal to ring the bell in front of the podium in order to appear clearly in the camera.
These words were enough to disturb the director's mood, so he replied angrily and said, "You want to teach us what to do...or are we the ones who should teach you?"
That person wanted to make it clear that he didn't mean to offend, but the director of education said, "I won’t continue from here. "
With his last words, he left his place near the podium and headed to the center of the school yard, where the students were standing in three rows, among them grade-one pupils who are in school's atmosphere for the first time in their lives, and they are the ones who need calmness and tranquility the most.
Touma insisted on his position by expelling us. It was only that they expelled us from the school yard gate in front of the students and with the help of the three security personnel.
As he rang the bell, the Director of Education passed in front of the students, followed by three security personnel in civilian clothes, one of whom was carrying a Kalashnikov and the other two had pistols. “Only education media here, I don't want satellite TV journalists here. Get out."
He also said, "On what basis were you invited, did you get the approvals? Get out, you came here to teach us what to do, you set the conditions for us. You enter schools as you like."
The reporter of the semi-official Al-Iraqiya channel showed him the permit, but the director of education tore the permit and threw it.
The director general insisted on his position by expelling us, so they expelled us from the gate of the school yard in front of the students' eyes and with the help of the three security guards.
Diyar Talib, anchor of the Kirkuk satellite channel, was one of the journalists who were expelled. "We demand an investigation of this improper treatment," he said.
The uproar following improper reaction
I left the school with my other colleagues, and after informing my media organization about the violation committed by the Director of Education, I arrived at Ali Mardan Primary School for direct coverage of the start of the school year ceremonies in the Kurdish Language Department.
KirkukNow newsroom never hesitated to publish the violation committed against journalists which was documented by statements and evidence. This has marked the ignition of a campaign against the misconduct not only in Kirkuk but across Iraq.
Kirkuk Now’s live coverage via Facebook platform has documented all the details of the incident, including the presence of the armed bodyguards of the Director-General with weapons in front of the students, and the pictures and videos of have been widely circulated in the local media and social media platforms.
Kirkuk branch of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate immediately in a statement condemned the violation and demanded the Director of Education to provide an explanation.
The Association for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Iraq, based on my statements, condemned that violation and demanded an investigation and to hold the Director of Education accountable for his misbehavior.
"The behavior of the Director-General, in front of the eyes of elementary school students, by undermining the role of journalists and media professionals, violates the principles of freedom of the press and human rights stipulated in the constitution, and he must apologize," said a statement by Kirkuk office of the International Organization for Human Rights.
Several other personalities and parties also denounced the way the Director of Education reacted, and expressed support for journalists of media institutions, KirkukNow in particular.