Kurdish security forces are seen in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, on July 23, 2018. Security forces recently harassed and attempted to arrest journalist Barzan Ali Hama. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

Security forces harass, attempt to arrest Kurdish journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan

June 20, 2019 10:00 AM ET

On June 4, 2019, security forces affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party harassed and attempted to arrest Barzan Ali Hama, a reporter for local broadcaster Kurdistan 24, in the city of Koya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Hama, who spoke with CPJ, and news reports.

The PUK is an opposition party in Iraqi Kurdistan's government, which is currently ruled by the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), according to a report from Hama's employer, which is affiliated with the KDP.

Guards at a PUK checkpoint in Koya stopped Hama and searched search his bags for nearly 20 minutes, only releasing him once an SUV with tinted windows arrived at the checkpoint, he told CPJ.

"As soon as they let me go, the SUV began driving in front of me very slowly. When we slowed down, the car ahead of us slowed down. When we sped up, they sped up as well," Hama told CPJ. "It felt that we couldn't get away from it. I was really afraid. We ended up taking refuge at the KDP headquarters in Koya."

Soon after his arrival, the party headquarters received a phone call from General Ramazan Mohammed Karim, the head of the political unit of the PUK Asayish security forces in Koya, according to Hama. Karim demanded that the journalist be released into the custody of the PUK security forces but did not disclose a reason why, the journalist told CPJ.

The head of the KDP headquarters refused the general's order, and called a PUK official to secure Hama's safe passage to Erbil, the journalist said. KDP security officers then escorted Hama out of the headquarters and to safety in Erbil, where he was originally traveling from, he said.

Hama told CPJ that the incident came a few days after men from the PUK met with him and tried to persuade him to join the party, which he declined.

The incident took place amid rising tensions between political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, of which journalists are often the victims, according to CPJ research.

Hama told CPJ that the harassment was likely linked to articles he wrote criticizing the PUK military forces' surrender of Kirkuk to the Iraqi Army without a fight on October 16, 2017. In an article published on October 21, 2017, Hama accused two senior commanders of leading the surrender. In an article from October 2018, he said that those responsible for the surrender should be court martialed for treason.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan media office did not reply to CPJ's emailed request for comment.