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Iraq / Kurdistan22 April 2009

Threats to press freedom in Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its support for independent journalists in Iraq’s northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, which today celebrates Press Day. Kurdistan was spared much of the fighting that engulfed the rest of Iraq after the US-led intervention of March 2003, but it is now experiencing many press freedom violations including harassment and violence against journalists.

Soran Mama Hama, a 23-year-old journalist working in Kirkuk for the magazine Leven, was gunned down in his home on 21 July 2008. A strong critic of local politicians and security officials in his articles, he had repeatedly been threatened and warned to stop his investigative reporting. But his courage and professionalism pushed him to continue.

The investigation into his murder has ground to halt despite protests by his fellow journalists. Reporters Without Borders today reiterates its appeal to the Kurdish authorities to carry out a thorough investigation aimed establishing the circumstances of his death.

Less than two weeks ago, Azeez Mahmoud, the correspondent of the Kurdish-language weekly Roudaou, escaped a murder attempt as she was returning to her home in Sulaymaniyah by car on the night of 9 April. The police say they are investigating. Reporters Without Borders urges the Kurdish regional government to shed light on this incident, in which Mahmoud could have died.

Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the many lawsuits and prosecutions that have been brought against journalists in Kurdistan as a result of complaints by politicians over articles about corruption or mismanagement of public affairs.

Surwan Omar, the editor of the magazine Rika and representative of the Kurdistan News agency, was arrested in Kurdistan on 17 March as a result of a complaint by Raniyah mayor Jiwar Gorna over a report about abuse of authority by several local officials. Omar had to pay bail of 3 million dinars (2,000 euros) to get out of prison. No date has so far been set for his trial.

Abd Arif, the editor of the Kurdish-language newspaper Haoulati, was sentenced on 15 March to pay a fine of 13 million dinars (8,500 euros) as a result of a complaint by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani because a translation of an article by US journalist Michael Robin in Middle Eastern Outlook was published in the 13 January issue of Haoulati. The article accused Talabani of embezzling 400 million dollars and referred to the lack of transparency about the assets and income of Iraq’s leaders.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to justice minister Safa El Safi on 17 March urging the judicial authorities to be more lenient with Arif as the fine threatens the future of weekly, the oldest Kurdish publication.

Jassem Mohamed, the head of the TV station Dalal, was arrested by the Kurdish security forces on 25 February in Erbil province for saying in an interview published in the local newspaper Awene that his detention for two weeks in January had “no legal grounds” and was a “human rights violation.”

The police often prevent journalists from covering events in Kurdistan. On 4 April in Badil, for example, the police prevent a Farhat TV crew from filming a demonstration in support of political prisoners.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of harassment to which journalists are regularly exposed in Kurdistan. The Reporters Without Borders correspondent in the region was to speak at an event organised today by the magazine Leven, with support from IREX, to mark Press Day. A “Soran Award” is to be given to three local journalists for producing work of quality.

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