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Iraqi Kurdistan: Legislative elections become nightmare for journalists

Political rivalry and tension prompted by the March 7 legislative elections in Iraqi Kurdistan resulted in a wave of violence against independent and opposition journalists in the days preceding the election and on election day itself. Journalists describe it as the most harrowing period since the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003.

“I am really concerned about these press freedom violations, which were too many to count,” said Halgurd Samad, the editor of Livin, Iraqi Kurdistan’s leading magazine. “There was no justification for all these attacks. We want to help the authorities to combat corruption and establish the rule of law, but they want us to stop criticizing. They attack us because they fear our power, they fear that our coverage of corruption could fuel opposition.”

Referring to the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the two parties that have until now controlled the Kurdistan Regional Government, Samad added, “The KDP and the PUK target us because our reporting worries them. The independent media are the only ones able to expose the corruption, the power games and the political deals.”

Zirak Kamal, from the Union of Kurdistan Journalists and a media advisor to Kurdistan’s prime minister, Dr Barham Saleh, also criticised the use of threats and violence against the media even if he insisted that the authorities were doing all they could rein it in. “We ask all the journalists to file complaints in the courts,” he said. “We are ready to do our best to help them. The courts are independent and everyone should respect their decisions.”

Kamal added, “The prime minister believes that independent media are needed to protect our democracy and national security. We are aware of the recent incidents and we have decided to ask the interior ministry to investigate them and identity those responsible for the attacks.”

Polling day was a black day for press freedom with many physical attacks and threats against independent and opposition media. Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) is aware of the following cases:

  • Kawa Garmiyani, the newspaper Awene’s reporter in the city of Kalar, in Sulaymaniyah province, was beaten by security forces and prevented from taking photos.
  • In Halabja district, in Sulaymaniyah province, a reporter for the opposition TV station KNN was attacked by security forces while filming PUK polling violations.
  • Independent and opposition journalists were prevented from entering voting stations or taking photos of them although the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) had said all journalists had the right to do this.
  • Residents helped Rabar Uzer, a reporter for the official website of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union/Yekgirtu, to escape when PUK security forces tried to confiscate his camera and beat him in the city of Sulaymaniyah.
  • Akar Fars and Rzgar Muhsin, two journalists working for Yekgirtu’s TV station in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, were attacked and badly beaten by security forces, who took their camera, defaced the station’s logo and detained them for 20 minutes.
  • Ibrahim Ali, Livin’s correspondent in Erbil, was prevented from taking photos although he had press ID that had been approved by the IHEC.
  • Hemn Mamand, Awene’s reporter in Erbil, received a threatening phone call from an unidentified phone number.
  • Shwan Sidiq, a reporter for the magazine Civil, was attacked by police in Erbil. “While I was busy taking photos, security forces accosted me, roughed me up and took my camera,” he told RSF.
  • Journalists working for Yekgirtu-owned Speda TV in Bazyan (a district of Kalar) were attacked by PUK security forces.
  • Security forces harassed the journalists accompanying Salahadin Bahadin, the head of Yekgirtu, when he went to vote. Bahadin issued a statement condemning the violence.
  • Rudaw’s reporter Ari Othman was attacked and injured in Erbil by a group of men in civilian dress.
  • Anwar Sabah, a reporter for the satellite TV station Payam, was prevented from filming election-day incidents in Erbil.

A crew working for KNN (a TV station owned by the Movement for Democratic Change/Gorran, the leading opposition coalition), was attacked by individuals while trying to film an incident on the road from Mahkmur to Erbil on February 5. When the police arrived, they arrested reporter Mariwan Mala Hasan and cameraman Mufid and held them for several hours for allegedly insulting the people who attacked them, the Gorran website reported.

Three journalists with the weekly newspaper Hawlati – Ara Ibrahim, Soran Ahmed and Surkew Mohamed – were attacked by KDP gunmen when they took photos of KDP militants threatening people on the street in Sulaymaniyah on March 4. Ibrahim told RSF the gunmen hit them with the butts of their Kalashnikov rifles, took their cameras and detained them for half an hour at the KDP’s 4th branch office in Sulaymaniyah. The journalists have filed a complaint against the branch.

Awene reporter Hemn Mamand was attacked by KDP security forces outside the citadel in Erbil while photographing a KDP motorcade on the evening of March 4. “When the motorcade passed in front of the citadel, they stopped the traffic, causing a huge traffic jam,” he told RSF. “I took some photos for my newspaper but, when they saw me, they came and beat me, insulting me and my newspaper. They said I was a traitor for criticising them. They took my camera but returned it when I showed them my IHEC press card.”

Two journalists working for Speda TV – Bilal Sa’id and Ahmed Mir (who is aged less than 18) – were assaulted by police in Kalar, in Sulaymaniyah province, while filming PUK electoral fraud on the evening of March 4, when special voting took place. “The police gave us a very bad beating, then took our mobile phone and ID and have not yet returned them,” Sa’id told RSF.

Another Speda TV crew was prevented from filming the special voting on March 4 in the district of Sharazur, in Sulaymaniyah province.

PUK security forces raided Dang (Voice), a Kalar-based radio station that criticises the PUK, on March 3, smashing its equipment and then closing it down. Station manager Jaza Muhamad told RSF, “The security forces came and closed our radio on the pretext that we do not have a legal permit. We do have permission. The real reason is our criticism of the status quo in Kurdistan and the corrupt political parties. We are independent and impartial. They broke most of our equipment. They did that just to shut us up.”

Date posted: March 9, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 120