Coming to Kurdistan

One of the strongest memories I have of meeting President Masoud Barzani is the winding drive up to his mountain-top headquarters in the town of Salahuddin outside Erbil. That was in 2008, when a CPJ delegation secured a pledge from the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to “create an atmosphere that is conducive to journalism.”

I hope to be making that climb again next week at the head of another CPJ mission to “the other Iraq” to engage with the president and his administration. We have commitments from several officials within the KRG and have requested a presidential meeting.

CPJ has a long track record of taking press freedom concerns directly to the top. Just this month CPJ met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, despite being told initially that she would never see us amid the political turmoil and frantic World Cup preparations enmeshing her administration. In April, our staff and board members met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In both cases the leaders took on board our concerns and promised to act on them.

The Kurdish region has prospered in the six years since our last trip, on the back of oil exports and trade. It has a vibrant and–for the region–relatively free press. But many of the underlying problems faced by Kurdish journalists, including threats, intimidation, imprisonment, and physical attacks, persist. The murders of two journalists and an arson attack on a TV station have gone unpunished. All are documented in our report released last month, “Mountain of impunity looms over Kurdistan journalists.” The report lists four main recommendations which we urge the KRG to implement:

  • Thoroughly investigate all unsolved attacks on journalists, including the murders of Sardasht Osman and Kawa Garmyane and the arson attack on Nalia Radio and Television (NRT), and hold to account all those responsible to the full extent of the law. Ensure that the families of killed or disappeared journalists are able to seek the truth about the fate of their relatives without fear of reprisal.
  • Publicly disclose the findings of the committee appointed by the president to investigate the murder of Sardasht Osman and any other official inquiries into attacks on journalists.
  • Provide training and education to judiciary and security officials to ensure no journalist is illegally detained in relation to his or her work. Publicly condemn instances of illegal detention and hold those responsible to account.
  • Take steps to amend the press law in consultation with local journalists, with the goal of banning vaguely worded prohibitions that are open to abuse and politicized prosecutions.

I, my colleague Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, and the report’s author, Namo Abdulla, all hope that Barzani will see it in his administration’s interest to engage with us when we reach Erbil on Monday. Because we, like the president, want to make that atmosphere conducive to journalism a reality.

To read this blog entry in Kurdish, download the PDF here.