Beirut, October 2, 2017--Kurdish regional authorities in northern Iraq should immediately allow Al-Ahad TV correspondent Saif Rida to safely return to Kirkuk province and resume his work as a journalist, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Kurdish military groups on September 30 threatened to arrest Rida for reporting critically on the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum and then ordered him to leave Kirkuk, according to the local press freedom group Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq and Rida's employer, which is affiliated with the Iran-backed Shia militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
The administrative director of Al-Ahad TV Abu Tayeba told CPJ that the order for Rida to leave came after the channel aired reports opposing the Kurdish independence referendum. Rida left Kirkuk province with his family for Baghdad on the same day he was threatened.
"Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq should practice the democracy they preach and allow journalists to cover all opinions, even those with which they disagree," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "We call on Kurdish authorities to allow Saif Rida to return to his work in Kirkuk province without fear of reprisal."
Last month, Rida reported on the deteriorating security situation for Arabs and the Turkmen minority in the oil-rich disputed area of Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city under Kurdish control that has long been contested between the central Iraqi government and Kurdish regional authorities. Rida also worked on a story published in April about the increasingly strained relations between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq over the status of Kirkuk.
The Kurdish authorities didn't immediately reply to CPJ's request for comment. Rida's expulsion comes as tensions are high between Kurdish authorities and the governments of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey in the wake of the independence referendum.
On August 30, 2017, the Kurdish authorities blocked the local broadcast signal of regional broadcaster NRT (Nalia Radio and Television) for one week for trying to air a program about the "No for Now" campaign, which called to delay the Kurdish independence vote, CPJ documented.