Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the destructive attack that 50 masked gunmen carried out at 2:30 a.m. on 20 February on the headquarters of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT) in the compound known as “German Village” in Sulaymaniyah, in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, to prevent it from continuing to cover unrest in the city.
After opening fire on NRT’s guards, wounding one of them, the gunmen smashed all the broadcasting equipment and then set fire to the building. Launched on 17 February by the company Naliya, it was Iraqi Kurdistan’s first independent satellite TV station. It had existed for 72 hours and had provided a total of just 17 hours of broadcasting when the attack took place.
In this short space of time, it had distinguished itself by its live coverage of the protests against the Kurdistan Regional Government that had erupted on 17 February and it had broadcast footage of police firing on demonstrators and the resulting bloodshed. NRT’s executive had been receiving threats since the day it was launched.
“This criminal attack is appalling and unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It was carried out by the enemies of freedom of expression in a democratic Iraqi Kurdistan. This region needs fully independent media that dare to show the reality that its dominant political forces have been trying to mask for years.”
The press freedom organization added: “We call on the competent authorities to investigate this crime in order to identify these who were behind it and bring them to justice. The authorities must also accept that they have a duty to guarantee the safety of journalists.”
NRT director-general Twana Osman told Reporters Without Borders: “We had already received threatening messages and phone calls to get us to stop covering the incidents that have been accompanying the protests in Sulaymaniyah. We spoke to Prime Minister Barham Salih and other senior officials, who told us that nothing would happen to us. But everything was destroyed. All the technical equipment was torched and the building cannot be used. The damage is put at 9 million dollars.
“We had broadcast just 17 hours of programming. Our coverage was neutral. Thousands of viewers had watched us, both in Kurdistan and in the diaspora. The parties that control politics in the region could not stand our new way of covering the news.”
Osman said the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main ruling parties, were clearly to blame.
“The KRG and PUK, as the dominant party in Sulaymaniyah, are responsible for this crime and will continue to be until the instigators are arrested,” he said. “Not only NRT but all of Kurdistan’s civil society were targeted by this attack, which was an attempt to conceal the truth from the public, to keep the public in ignorance and to gag independent media.”
The attack on NRT is far from being isolated. Reporters Without Borders has registered many attacks and threats against journalists since the start of the protests in Iraqi Kurdistan on 17 February:
* 21 February
- Ageed Saleem, an NRT reporter in Duhok, said he was threatened by a leading member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the other main party in the ruling coalition.
* 20 February
- Bryar Namiq, a reporter for Kurdish News Network (KNN), was badly injured by police and members of the Asayesh (intelligence service).
- KURDIU reporter Balen Othman was attacked and his camera was destroyed.
- Goran Othman, a journalist with the Islamic Group news website, was attacked.
- Shaswar Mama, an NRT reporter in Raniya, was accosted by members of the security forces.
- KURDIU reporter Mukhlis Ahmed was attacked in Raniya.
- Following its coverage of the previous day’s events in Sulaymaniyah, staff at the newspaper Hawlati received a threatening phone call saying they should evacuate their Erbil office.
Police prevented many journalists from covering protests at the University of Sulaymaniyah.
- Police beat Hawlati reporter Ara Ibrahim using batons.
- Police attacked a KNN TV crew.
- Aras Muhammad, the head of Arasta magazine and Sound Radio, was injured by members of the Asayesh.
- Hardi Salami, a reporter for the satellite TV station Gali Kurdistani, sustained a leg injury.
- Payam reporter Wrya Ahmed sustained injuries to the hands and legs when he was attacked by police.
The Sulaymaniyah security committee also demanded university academic and intellectual Dr. Faruq Rafeeq’s arrest after he said, while taking part in a demonstration in Sulaymaniyah on 17 February: “Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, should apologize for the incidents and deaths caused by members of his party. Those who fired the fatal shots and those who gave them their orders should be arrested and brought to justice. And finally, the Peshmergas (armed fighters) should leave the city.”
* 18 February
- Lutfi Doski, a Duhok-based KNN reporter, was prevented from filming the premises of the Gorran party in Duhok.
- An NRT team was prevented from filming demonstrations.
- Reporters for the newspaper Chatr were forced to delete the photos they had taken of the demonstrations.
- Reporters for the newspaper Hawlati were prevented from filming incidents taking place in Sulaymaniyah.
* 17 February
- Radio Gorran was prevented from broadcasting.
- Police prevented KNN reporters from filming the incidents.
- Shwan Muhammad, the editor of the newspaper Awene, was insulted by Peshmergas.
- Rahman Gharib, the head of the press freedom organization METRO and a reporter for Sumariya News, was attacked.
- KNN programme director Namo Namiq was detained for several hours.
- Radio Nawa reporter Bilal Muhammad was attacked and prevented from covering the incidents.
- Saman Majed and Bwar Jalal, reporters for the PUK’s satellite TV station Gali Kurdistan, were attacked.
- Sherko Salayi, a reporter for CNN in Arabic, was attacked.
- Hemin Abdul Latif, reporter for the Destur news website, was badly injured while photographing demonstrators attacking the local headquarters of the KDP.
- The Erbil headquarters of the KNN TV and radio station were set on fire.
- Ari Muhammad, a photographer with the Metrography agency, was injured.