A Kurdish flag is waved during a rally in support of the Iraqi Kurdish leader in Erbil on October 30, 2017. Amid unrest in the region, Kurdish news outlets are attacked and harassed. (AFP/Safin Hamed)
A Kurdish flag is waved during a rally in support of the Iraqi Kurdish leader in Erbil on October 30, 2017. Amid unrest in the region, Kurdish news outlets are attacked and harassed. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

Kurdish journalist killed, others attacked amid post referendum tensions

New York, October 30, 2017– CPJ today condemned attacks against the Kurdish media in Iraq and called on all parties to refrain from targeting the press as political and military tensions escalate over a Kurdish independence bid. In recent days, attackers stabbed to death a journalist, a mob attacked two TV crews, and Iraq’s media regulator ordered two stations to cease broadcasting.

Early today, eight masked men forced their way into the Daquq home of Arkan Sharifi, a cameraman for Kurdistan TV, and stabbed the journalist to death in front of his family, his employer and other local media reported. Sharifi had only recently returned to the city near Kirkuk. The journalist, who is also the head teacher at a village school, had left the city when the Iraqi-led Popular Mobilization Front seized Daquq, according to Kurdistan TV.

Kurdistan TV, which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), has been covering clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Popular Mobilization Front in northeastern Iraq, as well as killings and kidnappings allegedly carried out by the Popular Mobilization Front in Kirkuk. The Front denies allegations of human rights violations, according to reports.

The stabbing, alongside an unrelated attack on two TV crews in Erbil, and the Iraqi media regulator ordering the Kurdish satellite channels Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24 to cease broadcasting, took place in regions currently or until recently under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Iraqi Kurdistan and the areas surrounding Kirkuk have seen unrest after the region held an independence referendum last month and Iraqi forces took Kirkuk from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

“Regional authorities should thoroughly investigate and prosecute the murder of Arkan Sharifi, and must also investigate the attacks on NRT and KNN journalists,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour in Washington D.C. “Iraqi and Kurdish parties must stop using journalists as political pawns to settle their scores, and the Iraqi media regulator should immediately allow Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24 to resume broadcasts.”

Yesterday, a mob in Erbil attacked TV crews working for the independent broadcaster NRT (Nalia Radio and Television) and KNN (Kurdish News Network), a station affiliated with the Gorran party, which opposes the de-facto two party system in areas under Kurdish rule. At the time the journalists were broadcasting outside the Kurdish Parliament after President Masoud Barzani announced his resignation, according to news reports and the local human rights group 17 Shubat.

NRT posted a video to its website yesterday showing assailants in plainclothes wielding sticks and shouting in Kurdish, “He works for NRT, attack him, beat him,” before an attacker swings at the cameraman, who dropped his equipment. Rebwar Kakaiy, a reporter for the station, suffered a severe neck injury and KNN’s Erbil correspondent Saleh Harki was left with a bruised back, the news reports said. Ragaz Kamal, co-founder of 17 Shubat, shared with CPJ a picture showing Harki’s bruises.

In a video posted on a Facebook page of PDK News, a news website affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), an attacker can be heard telling the others not to attack the Rudaw TV crew, which is affiliated with Barzani’s KDP party.

NRT deputy newsroom manager Soran Rashid told CPJ that assailants yesterday looted and vandalized the broadcaster’s offices in Erbil and the northern city of Duhok, 155km from Erbil. Rashid said that security forces stopped the attackers from setting fire to the offices, and that the offices were empty because the station was anticipating an attack because of the unrest. “We have asked the security forces to intervene,” Rashid said.

Separately, the Iraqi Commission of Media and Communications on October 28 ordered the Kurdish satellite channels Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24 to cease broadcasts. The regulator accused the channels of lacking official registration, inciting violence and hate, and undermining social peace and security, the channel and two local press freedom groups who denounced the decision said today. The commission banned their crews from operating, and authorized the seizure of the station’s equipment throughout Iraq, Rudaw reported. CPJ was unable to determine if the stations complied with the order or how long the ban will last.

Both outlets issued statements denying the accusations. In a statement, Rudaw said that it was not officially notified of the ban, and that the regulator’s decision was sent to various Iraqi security officials and telecommunications companies, including those broadcasting the channel. The regulator did not immediately return CPJ’s request for comment sent via social media.

Last month, Turkish authorities ordered Kurdistan 24 and Rudaw TV to be removed from the country’s main satellite provider Turksat, over allegations that the stations promoted Kurdish independence, according to reports. Last year, Rudaw was banned by Kurdish authorities in Syria over allegations of spreading false news and promoting disunity.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The ninth paragraph of this alert has been corrected and updated to reflect details of the attack on the NRT offices in Erbil and Duhok.]