Investigation of Kurdish journalist’s murder lacks credibility

New York, September 15, 2010The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) today released the result of a five-month-long investigation into the death of Sardasht Osman, a freelance journalist who was shot to death in May. The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the deficient inquiry and calls on Kurdish authorities to conduct a thorough and credible investigation into Osman’s death.  

Osman was abducted on May 4 in Arbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and found dead two days later. Osman’s brother, Bashar, told CPJ in May that he was convinced that Osman was killed in connection with a satirical article he wrote in the twice-monthly Ashtinam in April about high-ranking Kurdistan Regional Government officials allegedly involved in corruption. Osman received numerous threatening phone calls asking him to stop writing about the KRG and its officials after publication.  

According to the 430-word KRG report released in Kurdish, Osman was killed by a member of Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group, for not carrying out work he had promised to do. According to an unofficial translation by Metro Center, a local press freedom organization, the KRG claims that Osman was connected to the extremist group. The report said that “after collecting and analyzing different information from various sources, we found that a person who belongs to Ansar al-Islam called Hisham Mahmood Ismail, 28, a Kurd from Mosul, a mechanic in the town of Beji, had played a role in murdering Sardasht.” The report failed to provide any evidence to support its claim. It goes on to state that “after interrogation, the suspect confessed to the crime.” The report concludes by stating that the authorities are trying to arrest other suspects.

“The government’s inquiry into Sardasht Osman’s death is severely lacking in credibility,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We expected more than a 430-word report that makes wildly improbable claims and fails to substantiate them. We strongly urge the KRG to launch a new and credible investigation into the murder of our colleague.”

Rahman Gharib at the Metro Center told CPJ that he was shocked to hear the findings of the report and stressed that Osman was interested in literature, not extremism. “I went to Osman’s home, I saw his library,” Gharib said. “He was fascinated with Gabriel García Márquez, Russian writers like Gorki, and Persian literature.”  

In May, Kurdish journalists, writers, and students demonstrated on the streets of Suleimaniyah after Osman’s death. “We asked then for an independent and objective investigation but the authorities did not listen again to the voice of the street,” Gharib said, adding that between 7,000 and 10,000 people took part in the demonstration.