Beirut, December 20, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the closure of an independent television broadcaster by the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, and attacks on journalists covering anti-austerity protests held yesterday in the same region.
“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq should stop harassing media outlets and journalists for reporting on the recent wave of regional protests,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington, D.C. “We call on the Kurdish government to live up to its professed commitment to press freedom and allow journalists to do their job without fear of reprisal.”
Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, yesterday at approximately 7 p.m. entered the headquarters of Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) in the northwestern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah without showing a warrant, according to the broadcaster and local press freedom groups Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy and the Iraqi Center for Supporting Freedom of Speech. NRT deputy newsroom manager Soran Rashid told CPJ that the security forces then vandalized the office and destroyed broadcasting equipment.
The security forces held the NRT staff in the building for an hour, suspended the broadcast of the NRT and its subsidiaries, and closed down the office for a week without explanation, Rashid said, adding that Asayish forces were stationed outside the NRT building.
The raid and shutdown occurred after NRT broadcasted a livestream of and reported on ongoing regional protests against corruption, unpaid public sector salaries, and austerity policies. Since the demonstrations broke out on December 18, at least five people have been killed and dozens injured, according to news reports.
In a separate incident, Asayish forces yesterday assaulted at least four journalists from the TV channel KNN (Kurdish News Network) while they were covering protests in the western Kurdish cities of Chamchamal and Qaladze, according to KNN and Ragaz Kamal, co-founder of the local human rights organization 17Shubat for human rights.
Asayish forces broke the hand of reporter Ari Luqman and the camera of Hemn Ahmad in Chamchamal. Forces affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) assaulted KNN reporter Sabir Abdullah and broke photographer Awat Omar’s camera, said Kamal and KNN.
CPJ could not reach the Asayish forces for immediate comment.
Kurdish authorities said yesterday in a statement that the governor of the Sulaimaniyah region, Haval Abubakir, had requested they close NRT because the broadcaster incited people to demonstrate against the government. The authorities offered a text message allegedly sent by Abubakir to the Kurdish authorities as evidence of his request. In a Facebook post on his official website, Abubakir refuted this account and said the text message was forged.