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Backsliding Freedom of press in Kurdistan

Kamal Chomani
Since the July 2009 parliamentary elections in Kurdistan, independent journalists in the region have been increasingly targeted for kidnap attempts, arrests and obstruction. In recent weeks these attacks have…
1.02.2010  |  Erbil

On 19th January, an attempt was made to kidnap the independent journalist, Sabah Ali Qarman, in Kifri city (200 km south east of Sulaimaniyah). This was one of the most worrying attacks.

The twenty-eight-year old Qarman, is known for criticising the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in his work.

Describing the attack on him, Qarman said, “There were three men in a grey car, which parked close to where I was standing. One of the men reached his hand towards me, and attempted to grab me, but I immediately realised what was happening and quickly escaped.”

“I identified one of them but the other two hid their faces with masks,” he continued. “He is from my city and is a retired member of the PUK. He used to hold a very important position in the party.”

At the start of this year, Awene Newspaper’s correspondent, Ihsan Mulla Fuad, was arrested by the police in the same city, based on a complaint filed by the director of Kifri’s electricity directorate. Fuad had recently published a report about electricity power outages in some areas.

Working for Awene, a newspaper that focuses on political issues, Fuad understands the controversial position he occupies but says he was “insulted” by the arrest. He called upon the Journalists’ Union “not to remain silent and to condemn such behaviour by the police.”

Fuad says he was arrested under Article 434 of the law but that he should have been summoned to appear before the police under Article 433, which deals with non-criminal offences.

“I was handcuffed. This is improper because it was not a criminal offence. I was only released when the director of the electricity directorate appeared in court and dropped the charges against me,” he added.

Even outside of Iraq, journalists face censure for their views. In Stockholm, Sweden, on 17th January, members of the PUK party based there attacked Qader Nader, a journalist and writer. The incident took place when Qader criticised the views of the party’s official spokesperson, Mulla Bikhtyar, at a conference.

“When Mulla Bikhtyar finished his speech, I wanted to participate in the discussions and I wrote my name on a piece of paper,” he told Niqash. “I was supposed to speak after 5 other persons but they did not read my name. When I started to speak, some of the PUK officials attacked me and told me: ‘Just sit there and don’t speak.’

“I live in Sweden, a democratic country, and despite this I have been threatened and attacked by the PUK and the KDP. I took the threats seriously and filed a complaint against the officials with the police.” added Nader.

Anwar Hussain Bazkar, from the Center for Defense of Press Freedom and Journalists' Rights in Kurdistan, said that these violations and attacks on journalists are the result of poor implementation of the Kurdistan Region’s new press law by the police and Asayesh. The situation is said to be particularly bad in Dahouk province and Karmian district.

Bazkar wishes to see this issue resolved quickly and to see an end to hostile behaviour against journalists. He wants to see a conference bringing the security services and police together, at which the new press law would be explained to them in more detail. The law, voted into force in 2008, prohibits the arrest of journalists.

In its latest report, published at the end of 2009, the Commission for the Defense of the Rights of Journalists in Kurdistan listed all violations against journalists in the preceding six months. It documented 70 violations. 35 were lawsuits, with another 35 cases of arrests, beating and penalties. Most of the victims were not members of the Kurdistan Journalists Association.

In a similar report produced by the French NGO, Reporters without Borders, the deteriorating conditions for Kurdish journalists was highlighted. The report said violations against independent journalists in Kurdistan have increased. According to the report, “the two influential parties in the region, the PUK and KDP, are to be held responsible for these violations.”

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