NRT office in Iraqi Kurdistan attacked

New York, August 31, 2017–The Kurdistan Regional Government should immediately investigate today’s attack on independent broadcaster NRT in Dohuk, northern Iraq, and swiftly bring those responsible to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Video footage aired by the channel showed what appeared to be a group of men entering the building and ripping down the station’s rooftop sign. Uniformed members of the Kurdish Zeravani brigade seen in the footage do not appear to immediately intervene.

NRT deputy newsroom manager Soran Rashid told CPJ that the assailants threatened to burn the Dohuk office down if staff didn’t leave. Rashid added that staff in the station’s Dohuk and Erbil offices said that they received calls and messages from unidentified people threatening them with assault. Rashid told CPJ that no vital equipment was damaged in the attack.

NRT has been reporting on Iraqi Kurdistan’s preparations for an independence referendum. The channel’s founder, Shaswar Abdulwahid, is funding a “No for Now” campaign in the referendum.

On August 30, Kurdish authorities blocked NRT’s broadcast signal for one week after accusing the channel of not paying broadcast fees, according to reports. The block came after Abdulwahid launched the campaign and affiliated channel separate from NRT to urge voters to reject the upcoming referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence.

“Coming on the heels of this week’s blocking of NRT’s signal this assault on NRT’s Dohuk office points to a pattern of intimidation of a broadcaster that takes a different view of the upcoming independence referendum from that of the government,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “Kurdish authorities must live up to their professed commitment to press freedom by ensuring NRT can operate freely.”

A NRT report quoted the head of the Dohuk bureau, Sipan Amedi, as saying that the group arrived in vehicles marked with the logos of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Peshmarga Affairs, which manages the region’s defense forces. The report added that the assailants chanted “yes to referendum.”

When CPJ contacted the Kurdistan Regional Government’s office in Washington D.C. a press officer said that he is waiting for comment from local officials.