Press conditions deteriorate in Iraqi Kurdistan

May 24, 2010

President Massoud Barzani
Kurdistan Region Presidency
P.O. Box 60
Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan

Via fax: 964 66 223 5505

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about deteriorating press freedom conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan, including deadly violence and official harassment. 

Sardasht Osman, 23, a reporter for the opposition semi-monthly Ashtiname and a regular contributor to Sbei, Awene, Hawlati, and Lvinpress, was found shot to death in the city of Mosul on May 6, according to news accounts and CPJ research. Unidentified gunmen approached Osman the previous day on the campus of the University of Salahadin in Arbil, where he was a final-year English student, beat him and dragged him into a white car, according to Metro Center, a local press freedom group. Osman’s brother, Bashdar, told CPJ the journalist had received a number of threats in connection with an April article in Ashtiname that was critical of a Kurdistan Regional Government official.

We welcome your appointment of a special committee to investigate the abduction and murder of Osman. We urge you to ensure that the investigation be impartial and thorough, that its findings be made public, and that the perpetrators of this crime be held accountable under the law.  

Other recent cases have caused us concern. They include:

·         On February 10, Kurdistan Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Shwan Mohamed, editor of the independent weekly Awene, and reporter Rebwar Karim Wali in connection with a January article critical of the prime minister. The piece urged the prime minister to spend more time working on the needs of his fellow citizens.

·         On February 14, a reporter and camera operator for the satellite TV station Kurdish News Network were harassed by police in Sulaymaniyah while covering a demonstration by pensioners seeking greater benefits, the reporter, Bryar Namiq, told CPJ. Namiq said police threatened to assault the journalists if they did not stop filming. Police confiscated their video camera and detained them for one hour, he said.

·         On April 17, police assaulted several journalists covering clashes in Sulaymaniyah between security forces and students protesting a Ministry of Education decision to change a grading system. Soran Ahmed, a reporter for the independent biweekly Hawlati, told CPJ that security forces beat him, seized his camera and phone, handcuffed him, and detained him for half an hour. Ahmed said he had witnessed police insult and hit other journalists, confiscate their cameras, and force them to leave the scene.

·         Three days later, on April 20, security forces prevented journalists from covering a protest in front of the General Directorate of Education in Sulaymaniyah. Hawzheen Gharib, a reporter for the independent daily Chatir told CPJ that he and three other photographers had their equipment confiscated and damaged by the authorities.

We call on you to ensure that journalists are not attacked, threatened, or harassed for their work. In particular, we urge you to issue clear, public directives to all security forces, instructing them to refrain from assaulting or obstructing journalists who are covering news events. We call on officials in your government to halt the practice of filing criminal lawsuits intended to silence news coverage. And we urge you ensure a thorough investigation into the murder of Sardasht Osman, one that leads to the prosecution of his killers.

Recent events are damaging Iraqi Kurdistan’s international image and undermining its reputation for tolerance of free expression and critical news coverage. Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.



Joel Simon

Executive Director