Media pluralism under attack from Kurdish authorities in both Syria and Iraq
In recent weeks, the governments in the autonomous regions of Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan have been targeting journalists working for TV channels linked to rival political parties. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in the two Kurdistans to stop sacrificing media pluralism to political rivalry.
“As so often in this complex region, journalists are caught in the trap of the rivalry between the various Kurdish political parties,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.“The ruling authorities do not tolerate pluralism, either on the Syrian or Iraqi side, and this must change if they claim to be democratic.”
Both Syrian and Iraqi journalists have been paying the price of political rivalry in the two Kurdistans in recent weeks. In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is led from its capital, Erbil, by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is dominated by the Barzani family. Northern and eastern Syria, over which Damascus has no control, has a government called the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) that is based in Qamishli and is controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
In Iraqi Kurdistan, recent media victims include TV journalists Karzan Tariq and Chener Ahmed. They were arrested by “Asayish” (security agents) on 1 August while interviewing people about their economic problems in Sulaymaniyah, an eastern city that is the bastion of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a party led by the Talabani family that is the KDP’s main rival.
Describing their arrest to RSF, Tariq said: “People who identified themselves as members of the Asayish made us show our identity papers. They asked us to follow them and seized our mobile phones and cameras. We were then taken to Asayish headquarters where we were detained in a room and questioned about our journalistic activities.” The two journalists were finally released that evening, after being held for ten hours.
Tariq and Ahmed work for NRT, an Iraqi Kurdish TV channel owned by Shaswar Abdulwahid, a businessman who heads a new opposition party called New Generation. The repeated target of harassment by the authorities, NRT issued a statement blaming the PUK for the arrests.
TV reporter Barzan Ferman was meanwhile abducted on 2 August in Qamishli, the city that is the Syrian Kurdish administrative centre. Ferman works for Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish TV channel owned by Nechirvan Barzani, the KRG’s current president and nephew of former KRG President Masoud Barzani.
Ferman’s sister described the circumstances of his abduction to RSF: “He went to the bureau with colleagues at around 10:30 am. Hooded men – one of them carrying a weapon – arrived two hours later, roughed him up and bundled him into a white van. We don’t know who they are, but they claim to belong to the region’s security services. They told the other journalists who were there to keep calm and not publicise this matter.”
The Syrian Kurdish authorities have banned Rudaw since February, accusing it of “agitating and tarnishing the image of institutions” and “harming the region’s social fabric.” Ferman went to the bureau on 2 August to meet with his former colleagues and consult its files. In June 2021, the Syrian Kurdish authorities banned Kurdistan 24, an Iraqi Kurdish TV channel whose founder, Noreldin Waisy, is close to the Barzani family.