Kurdish journalist brutally assaulted in Iraq

New York, August 31, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Monday’s brutal assault on Kurdish journalist Asos Hardi and calls on Kurdish authorities to immediately take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Hardi, director of the Awene Press and Publishing Company which houses the independent newspaper Awene, was leaving his office in Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan at 7 p.m. when he was attacked by a young man wearing black, he told CPJ. The assailant, who had been waiting near the journalist’s car, knocked him to the ground and hit him repeatedly on the back of his head with a pistol. The man stopped when he noticed onlookers approaching and then ran and jumped into a white BMW with no license plate, the journalist said. Hardi called a friend who lived nearby, who took him to a hospital. He was treated for six wounds on his head and received 32 stitches, he said.

“The Kurdish Regional Government should order an immediate investigation into the vicious assault of Asos Hardi and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This attack is part of a pattern of assaults and intimidation of independent journalists in the Kurdish region.”

Although the motive for the attack is unclear, Hardi believes it is directly related to his work as a journalist. In 2008, he was sentenced to a six-month suspended jail term for an article unfavorable to the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government. Prior to that, he was sentenced to a one-year suspended term for publishing an open letter from an artist who claimed to never have been paid by the prime minister’s office for artwork. “I have never had any personal problems with anyone in my whole life,” he told CPJ. “The only thing I do is writing. I’m a journalist. I used to criticize all the authorities here. I don’t have any personal enemies here. I’m sure what happened is directly related to my job.”

Hardi is the recipient of the 2009 Gebran Tueni Award, the annual prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and is a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Division’s Advisory Committee.

In recent months, CPJ has reported on several attacks on Iraqi Kurdish journalists, most of whom cover violent clashes between Kurdish security forces and protesters in Sulaymaniyah. Journalists in Kurdistan are frequently subjected to threats, arbitrary arrests, harassment, beatings, or confiscation or destruction of their equipment, CPJ research shows.