Beirut, March 26, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to investigate immediately attacks against local journalists covering regional protests.
Kurdish security forces have assaulted at least seven journalists and detained at least two while they were reporting on anti-austerity protests that began yesterday in Kurdistan, according to the local press freedom group Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy and Ragaz Kamal, co-founder of the local Iraqi human rights organization 17Shubat for Human Rights.
“The authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan say repeatedly that they support a free press. The latest examples of thuggish behavior by some of their security forces tell a different story,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney from New York. “The Kurdistan Regional Government must bring those responsible for assaulting reporters to justice and return all seized journalistic equipment and materials.”
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Media and Information Department did not reply immediately to CPJ’s request for comment.
During protests today in the city of Erbil, Kurdish security forces assaulted and detained Araz Azziz and Muhalib Khorshawe, a reporter and cameraperson for Payam TV, according to Kamal and Payam TV, which is funded by the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG). Authorities released Azziz and Khorshawe without charges, Kamal told CPJ.
Azziz and Khorshawe’s equipment was also seized by security forces at the time of their detention, according to a statement from their employer.
In the same protests, security forces slapped and kicked Hana Chomani, a reporter for the independent news website Dwarozh, while he was filming, according to Kamal and a video that Chomani posted on his Twitter account. According to these sources, the security forces also threatened to imprison the journalist for six months and seized his camera and SIM card.
Yesterday, security forces in Erbil assaulted a four-person television crew from Nalia Radio and Television (NRT), according to the video footage NRT posted on its official Facebook account and the local press freedom group Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy.
NRT deputy newsroom manager Soran Rashid told CPJ that one of the channel’s reporters, Herish Qadir, was hit by a rubber bullet in his left leg while he was interviewing protesters. Plainclothes police then beat Rashid and Qadir with their hands and feet, and insulted Qadir and another NRT reporter, Renas Ali.
Plainclothes police in Erbil also beat up the two NRT camera operators, Mohammed Idriss and Amanj Sami, and seized their cameras. Idriss’ right hand was broken in the shuffle. Rashid, Qadir, Idriss and Sami all went to a city hospital for treatment, according to Rashid. Police have not returned their cameras, Rashid told CPJ.
In Duhok, located approximately 95 miles west of Erbil, Rashid said that security forces yesterday prevented NRT reporter Samad Rekany from covering local anti-austerity protests.
According to news reports, the Kurdistan Regional Government is experiencing financial difficulties due to strained relations with Baghdad and plummeting oil prices. These conditions prompted authorities to make budget cuts and slash civil servants’ pay setting off regional protests.