Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns a wave of media freedom violations in Iraqi Kurdistan during December, especially a series of arrests of journalists that were carried out in a completely illegal manner.
According to the latest tally:
- Five media premises were torched, ransacked or otherwise targeted
- Twelve journalists were illegally arrested or jailed
- There were more than 15 physical attacks on journalists.
It all started with a series of attacks on massage salons and shops selling alcohol in Zakho (a city on the northern border with sizeable religious and ethnic minorities) after Friday prayers on 2 December. That night, buildings belonging to the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) in Zakho were set on fire.
The headquarters of many news media were also torched. They include the satellite TV station Speda, Xabir TV and Xabir Radio, and the news website Kurdiu. All these media are affiliated to the KIU, which includes many journalists are among its members. Since then, the list of journalists being physically attacked or detained has steadily lengthened.
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about the abuses in a 5 December press release, calling on the authorities to conduct thorough investigations in all the cities where incidents had occurred, especially Dohuk, Smel and Zakho.
Kurdistan’s president, Massoud Barzani, appointed a four-member commission (consisting of a parliamentarian, a KIU-member, and two non-Muslim religious representatives) on 4 December to investigate all the incidents in Zakho.
In its findings, released on 25 December, the commission said that pro-KIU media had provoked the attacks on the massage salons and shops selling alcohol, that the security services had been overwhelmed and unable to prevent the attacks or protect the premises of the news media, and that certain groups close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – one of the two ruling parties in Kurdistan – had also had a role in the violence.
The commission finally called on the judicial authorities to look at the possibility of prosecuting those responsible.
Now that all the journalists have been released and some of the media have been able to resume operating out of the same premises, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its concern about all these deliberate media freedom violations, which contravened legal and constitutional provisions in effect in Iraq and the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the commission of enquiry’s findings and calls on the judicial authorities must do their job. At the same time, it urges the judicial authorities to make a clear distinction between the responsibility of the political parties involved, and the work of the journalists employed by media affiliated to these parties.
- Hassan Yasin, Xabir Radio manager, on 3 December in Zakho
- Mahir Sagvan, Xabir Radio presenter, on 3 December in Zakho
- Islam Saedi Kashani, Xabir Radio and Xabir TV presenter and reporter on 3 December in Zakho
- Youssef Salim, Xabir TV presenter, on 3 December in Zakho
- Delbirn Youssef, Xabir TV cameraman, on 3 December in Zakho
- Delbirn Haji, Xabir TV editor, on 3 December in Zakho
- Nursi Ramazan, Xabir TV programme director, on 3 December in Zakho
- Usama Nasradin, Xabir TV cameraman, on 3 December in Zakho
- Samir Ubaid, Xabir TV programme director, on 3 December in Zakho
- Bilal Jamil, Xabir TV children’s programme presenter, on 3 December in Zakho
- Diyar Faruq, a journalist with the Kurdiu news website in Sulaymaniyah, arrested on 4 December
- Abdallah Ahmad, Speda TV cameraman, arrested at his home in Zakho on 20 December.
All the Xabir radio and TV journalists arrested on 3 December were released three days later, except Kashani and Ramazan. Three of them – Yasin, Nasradin and Salim – were summoned to a police station on 7 December and were taken from there to a detention centre controlled by the Asayesh (intelligence services). Yasin was released on 11 December. The other two were released on 15 December. All three had to pay 10 million dinars (660 euros) in bail. Kashani and Ramazan had to pay the same amount in bail when they were finally released on 26 December.
Abdallah Ahmad, a Speda TV cameraman, was arrested at his home in Zakho at around 7:30 p.m. on 20 December and was released seven days later after payment of 10 million Iraqi dinars (660 euros) in bail.
The journalists said they were mistreated during their periods in arbitrary detention.
Journalists physically attacked:
* On the night of 2 December
- Speda TV journalist Abdullah Ahmed was attacked in Dohuk and his camera was destroyed.
- KNN television journalists were attacked in Smel and their equipment was confiscated.
- An NRT television reporter was attacked by six armed men in Smel.
* On 3 December
- Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Zawetay was filming a burning KIU building in Dohuk when he was attacked by plainclothes security men and Zeravani (members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two ruling parties in Kurdistan), who confiscated his camera. He said several other Al-Jazeera journalists were also targeted.
- Speda TV cameraman Murad Fouad was attacked in Dohuk and his camera was broken.
- Journalists were harassed in Erbil while covering demonstrations by KIU supporters. A reporter working for the newspaper Xandan’s website, Darbaz Saleh, and his photographer were detained for 30 minutes by security forces.
- Journalists working for KNN, Speda and Somar News were physically attacked in Sulaymaniyah while covering a peaceful protest against the previous night’s arson attack on the KIU’s offices.
* On 4 December
- News media were forbidden to cover a fire at a massage salon in Sulaymaniyah.
* On the night of 2 December
- The premises of several news media, including Speda TV, Xabir TV and Xabir Radio, were set on fire in Zakho.
- Shots were fired at Speda TV’s offices in Erbil.
The US consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alex Lakares, visited Zakho on 14 December and voiced concern about the arrests of journalists.