Beirut, July 11, 2017--Authorities in northern Iraq should conduct a thorough and credible investigation into the beating of journalist Ibrahim Abbas and should bring all those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Five armed men assaulted Abbas in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil yesterday, according to the journalist, news reports, and the Kurdish human rights organization 17 Shubat for Human Rights.
Abbas told CPJ that he was on his way home yesterday evening when two cars stopped the taxi he was in. Five masked, armed men dressed in black and holding electric cables got out of the cars and dragged him out of the taxi, he said. When he fell down, they started beating him on the legs, arms, and head while shouting at him in the Kurdish Badini dialect, "We are Barzani's family," in an apparent reference to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani, Abbas said. Witnesses to the beating pleaded with Abbas' attackers to stop, and one of them eventually drove the journalist to the Erbil East Emergency Hospital, Abbas told CPJ.
"The Kurdish government in northern Iraq wants to be seen in the eyes of the international community as a champion of a free press," CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said from New York. "For that reason alone it has to publicly condemn this brutal assault on Ibrahim Abbas and prosecute all those responsible to the full extent of the law."
Spokesmen for the KRG and Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) did not return CPJ's emails, phone calls, or Facebook messages seeking comment.
Abbas was a press aide to Barzani and his nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the KRG, and was the editor of Rubar Weekly, which is affiliated with the KDP, before he left the party in June 2016. He has been critical of the party in his writing for his blog, several media outlets, and social media since.
Abbas on July 1 published on Facebook screenshots ostensibly showing messages between KDP social media manager Saro Qadir and KDP-affiliated journalists calling for legal action against nongovernmental organizations, pro-opposition media outlets, and journalists. On July 8, he published on Facebook an audio recording purportedly featuring Qadir urging pro-KDP journalists to avoid writing negatively about Iran. Independent Kurdish media outlets, including The Kurdistan Post and Snur Media, picked up the recordings and screenshots.
Qadir told CPJ that he had no information about the case or any connection to it. In an email, he did not respond to questions about the the screenshots and audio recordings.
Abbas told CPJ that he believed that the publication of this material was the reason behind last night's assault. He added that someone reported his Facebook account on July 9, leading the website to close the account until he successfully appealed.
Kurdish security forces detained the journalist on May 3 after he published two videos criticizing the Barzani family and the KDP, according to news reports and 17 Shubat for Human Rights. He said he was released on the orders of President Barzani himself.
Abbas has accused Barzani loyalists of harassing and threatening him repeatedly since he left the party last year, according to news reports, 17 Shubat for Human Rights and Abbas. In a May 5 interview with the independent Kurdish TV channel NRT, Abbas said, "My salary was cut, my house was invaded, my reputation was tarnished, my life was embittered. They don't let you move. You can't change your party and work for another one. They say you will betray them. You are a traitor."
EDITOR'S NOTE: The eighth paragraph has been updated with Saro Qadir's response.