Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns yesterday’s murder of a Kurdistan TV cameraman near Kirkuk and the previous day’s violence against media personnel by demonstrators in Erbil. The two separate incidents in the space of a few hours point to an alarming decline in the security of journalists in northern Iraq.
The cameraman, Arkan Shareef, was stabbed to death in his home in Daquq, 60 km south of Kirkuk, at around 3 a.m. yesterday by masked intruders while his family was shut in another room. The motives for the murder are not known.
Aged 50 and the father of three children, Abdullah had worked since 2004 for Kurdistan TV, which is affiliated to Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He was also a primary school teacher in a nearby village.
“We condemn this murder and called for a prompt and impartial investigation by the Iraqi authorities with the aim of identifying the perpetrators and their motives,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“The current political differences in this part of the world must not blind us to an unacceptable reality, namely crimes of violence against civilians and, in this case, the cold-blooded murder of a journalist.”
In a statement condemning Abdullah’s murder, Kurdistan TV said it was one of a spate of serious acts of violence against civilians, especially Kurds, and that it confirmed the lack of security in areas seized in recent days by the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitary forces (Hashd al-Shaabi).
When reached by RSF, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s foreign affairs department, Falah Mustafa, also spoke of the many human rights violations against civilians, especially journalists, since the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitaries pushed into the disputed territories.
Harassment of Kurdish media
Pro-KDP Kurdish media have been affected by the tension between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad. On 23 October, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) ordered the suspension of two pro-KDP Kurdish TV channels, Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24, claiming that they lacked licences and had been broadcasting reports that incited violence and hatred.
Denying these accusations in a communiqué on 28 October, Rudaw TV said it had not been formally notified of the suspension and had received no prior warning or complaint.
Tension in the region has also been exacerbated by KDP leader Masoud Barzani’s decision to stand down as president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in the wake of the independence referendum he organized, which triggered an unprecedented crisis with the government in Baghdad.
Reporters were harassed and attacked by angry demonstrators while covering President Barzani’s resignation announcement to the Kurdish parliament in Erbil on the evening of 29 October.
Rebwar Kakaye, a reporter for private TV channel NRT TV, was doing a live interview when he was beaten with sticks and his equipment was smashed by demonstrators who were trying to force their way into the parliament building. He had to be taken to hospital.
KNN TV reporter Salih Harki and Roj News reporter Qarachux Anwer were also attacked, while the NRT TV offices in Erbil and Dohuk (another city in Iraqi Kurdistan) were ransacked the same evening.
Iraq is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.