Violence against reporters covering protests in Iraqi Kurdistan
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the flagrant lack of tolerance for opposition media in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the security forces harassed at least 60 journalists trying to cover anti-government protests in several of this autonomous region’s cities during the past weekend.
“The brutality unleashed by the authorities against journalists and opposition media is unacceptable,” RSF’s Middle East desk said. “It shows a complete refusal to tolerate the political pluralism that should be reflected in the media, and a desire to suppress an unwanted popular protest.”
The demonstrations held in Iraqi Kurdistan’s main cities on 6 August were called by New Generation leader Shaswar Abdalwahid to denounce “corruption, poverty and unemployment” and to demand elections. New Generation wants to be an alternative to the region’s two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Violence was used to disperse not only protesters but also the journalists covering the protests. Metro Center, an NGO that defends journalists’ rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, told RSF that it registered a total of 78 violations against 60 journalists, that at least 26 journalists were detained, four were searched, 16 were prevented from covering the protests, eight were teargas
targets and 23 had equipment confiscated.
The security forces also shut down the office of Rast Media, a new online media outlet, on the day that it due to launch, which was 6 August.
“Our staff had been undertaking all of the legal steps required to launch our media for about a month,” Rast Media founder Omed Baroshki said. “We had set the date of 6 August for the start of our media activities. That morning, members of the security forces burst in, prevented us from continuing our journalistic activities, and then closed our office.” This is not the first time that Baroshki has been targeted. He was jailed from August 2020 to February 2022 on a charge of “endangering national security.”
Sirwan Gharib, the editor of the independent news website Westga News, told RSF that he was detained by the Asayish (security forces) for several hours along with several colleagues in Sulaymaniyah.
“Just after we arrived to cover the protests, a drone belonging to the Asayish filmed us from a very close distance in order to intimidate us,” Gharib said. “Later, we were all taken in a barred bus to the Asayish security centre, where they confiscated our mobile phones and treated us like criminals although covering the news is a fundamental right, not a crime.”
Kurdistan’s leaders “continue to regard the political opposition and their media with hostility,” Metro Center director Rahman Gharib said. “They claim to be a democracy, but when political discord between them and the opposition intensifies and the opposition sees no alternative but street protests, opposition media outlets find themselves in prison.”
Of the 26 journalists who were briefly detained, at least ten work for NRT, a TV channel owned by Abdalwahid, New Generation’s leader.