Iraqi Kurdistan: Wave of arrests of journalists since Covid-19’s arrival
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an end to the wave of arrests and harassment of journalists under way in Iraqi Kurdistan since Covid-19 arrived in the region. At least four journalists have been arrested by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s security forces in the past month.
Hemn Mamand, a freelancer based in Erbil, was re-arrested on 5 April after giving an interview to the NRT TV channel in which he described the conditions in the prison from which he had just been released. His first arrest was for a Facebook post critical of the measures taken by the autonomous Kurdish government to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
Dohuk-based freelancer Dilshad Himo was freed on bail yesterday after being arrested for criticizing a decision to postpone the payment of salaries to civil servants during the crisis. Kurdistan 24 reporter Harem Jaf was briefly detained in Kifri at the end of March for criticizing a raid on the home of a man suspected of being infected with the virus.
“One journalist after another has been arrested since Iraqi Kurdistan was hit by the coronavirus,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The security forces must stop using this crisis to carry out arrests without charge and without legitimate grounds.”
Reporters have also had problems in the field while trying to cover the measures ordered by the government to combat the pandemic. Freelancer Zryan Mohammad was detained for several hours in Sulaymaniyah on 7 April after filming a large outdoor gathering at which salaries were distributed. The gathering was held despite a curfew.
Awder Omer, a video-reporter for the Nas Kurd news website, was badly beaten by security forces in Sulaymaniyah on 22 March when he filmed a temporary checkpoint that had been set up to enforce the curfew. His mobile phone and other equipment were seized and the video he had filmed was deleted.
Finally, the Kurdistan government’s health minister has sent a letter to the interior ministry calling for the NRT TV channel to be suspended for allegedly inciting the public not to respect the curfew. No decision has so far been taken in response to the request.
Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.