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July 19, 2019 - Updated on August 2, 2019

Reporter badly beaten while covering Turkish diplomat’s murder in Erbil

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that an Al Jazeera journalist was deliberately assaulted by members of the Kurdish security forces on 17 July when he went to a restaurant in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where a Turkish diplomat had just been killed in a shooting.

Al Jazeera’s Erbil bureau said in a statement that bureau chief Ahmed Alzawiti was taken to hospital after being beaten by security agents when he went to cover the shooting. Alzawiti told RSF that the agents, who identified themselves as members of an anti-terrorist unit, insulted him and gave him a severe beating when he said he was an Al Jazeera journalist.

 

“Assaulting a journalist because he is trying to cover an event and keeping the media away from a location where they need to report constitutes a serious press freedom violation,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “Disconnecting social networks also blocks access to information and shows a lack of transparency.”

 

The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), an Iraqi NGO, said the security forces confiscated the cameras of local and foreign media that went to the scene of the shooting. They also seized the mobile phones of passers-by and CCTV cameras from nearby shops. While reporting live for NRT TV, a local TV channel, journalist Hersh Qadir said the media were not being allowed to approach the scene of the shooting.


The Erbil security forces denied any agressions against journalists.

 

Several sources said that access to Facebook was blocked during the evening after the shooting, although it was later restored. The Iraqi Centre for Supporting Freedom of Speech (ICFS) issued a statement in which it condemned the blocking and blamed the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

 

The KRG issued a statement in which it condemned the shooting but did not refer to the Facebook blocking.

 

Iraq is ranked 156th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.