On the evening of Dec. 6, the journalist Kawa Ahmed Germyani was shot in the head and chest at home, in front of his mother, in Kalar, a town south of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. It is generally thought that Germyani was murdered by unknown gunmen because as the editor-in-chief of Rayal magazine and as a correspondent for Awene, an independent newspaper specializing in investigative work, he had been looking into corrupt officialdom in the semi-autonomous region.
Although Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own parliament, military and legislative system, is generally considered to be far more secure than the rest of Iraq, this was another blow to the region’s more liberal image. Earlier this year, Iraqi Kurdish security forces had to deal with the first extremist bomb attack here in six years.
Rahman Gharib, from the Kurdish media rights watchdog, Metro Centre, told the AFP news agency that Germyani had been threatened – there was some audio evidence of this - and that he had been taken to court by politicians and officials over his work.
Germyani’s murder was not the first. Two other high profile cases in Iraqi Kurdistan have been very similar. The others were Soran Mama Hama, who had also been publishing information about corruption among local officials, and Sardasht Othman, who had been writing satirical stories about the region’s leading Barzani family. Additionally dozens of other journalists and members of the press have been assaulted, intimidated, kidnapped or otherwise attacked. Equipment has been confiscated, property destroyed and there have been arbitrary arrests.
The Metro Centre says it has documented more than 200 attacks on journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan since the beginning of the year and that these range from beatings to arrests and other intimidation.
In both of the two previous murder cases, the assailants have never been caught and the cases have not progressed. Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan fear the same will happen in Germyani’s case. And as a result, they organised a number of protests.
After Germyani’s funeral last Friday, locals in Kalar took to the streets to demand justice for the slain reporter. Those protests have since spread and demonstrations have taken place in Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Local security forces say they have arrested four individuals in connection with the murder but Germyani’s family say they want those who ordered his murder held responsible too, not just the actual assassins.
Germyani’s brother told NIQASH that the family were filing a law suit against local officials. “Our primary concern is to reveal the names of the officials we believe assigned the assassins,” he said.
Security officials in both Kalar and nearby Sulaymaniyah refused to give any statements because, they all said, “it might prejudice ongoing investigations”.
“Germyani’s assassination has brought a lot of harm to the region’s reputation, both locally and abroad,” the Metro Centre’s Gharib told NIQASH. “If the government is serious about repairing that damage then they should bring the murderers, and those who planned the murder, to justice. Journalists here say they want genuine solutions to these issues. Recent events show that we have some serious issues. Everyone is proud of Iraqi Kurdistan’s reputation for stability but recent events have shocked us all.”
There is some press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan, says Kamal Rauf, editor-in- chief of the local Shar Magazine. But it is decreasing steadily. “The problems that journalists face here don’t have to do just with the lack of law enforcement but also with the fact that the law is often used against them, to pressure them,” Rauf said. “Independent journalism is a dangerous job here. Journalists have no idea when they will be targeted or if they will be targeted and when they are killed, like this, then the murderers simply take cover under the shadows cast by the region’s ruling parties.”
As for local journalists themselves, many now say they are carrying guns around to protect themselves. In the past it was fairly common to carry a weapon in Iraqi Kurdistan but it’s a practice that has been fading out recently, due to the region’s relative stability. However now, journalists say, they are taking it up again – even though most are well aware that, given the way that assassins murdered Hama, Othman and now Germyani, they know it probably won’t help.