A member of the Asayish is seen in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, on May 13, 2018. Asayish forces in Sulaymaniyah recently detained freelance journalist Zmnako Ismael. (Reuters/Ako Rasheed)

Kurdish intelligence officers detain photojournalist in Iraqi Kurdistan

July 15, 2019 3:00 PM ET

On July 9, 2019, in the city of Sulaymaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish security forces detained and questioned freelance photojournalist Zmnako Ismael for more than an hour while he was covering the funeral of Diyar Gharib Mohammed, a senior leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party militant group, according to local news reports and Ismael, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

Ismael told CPJ that he was taking photos of the funeral when three men in plainclothes approached him and asked him if he had permission to do so. When he said that he did not need permission, the men replied that he did, because it was the funeral of a political figure, Ismael told CPJ.

Ismael said the men took him to an unmarked car where they identified themselves as officers with the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence agency, and said they were enforcing orders on behalf of Khalid Mawati, the head of the agency in Sulaymaniyah. The officers drove Ismael to the Asayish headquarters in Sulaymaniyah, where they held him, questioned him about his work, and confiscated his camera and its memory cards, which contained photos of the funeral as well as personal photos and pictures of anti-government protests, Ismael said.

After more than an hour, Ismael was released without his camera or memory cards, he said. On July 11, Asayish officers returned his camera, but withheld the cards, Ismael told CPJ.

Ismael works as a freelance journalist in Iraq, and has worked for local outlets such as independent news websites Awene and Hawlati and the Iraqi photography agency Metrography, and international media outlets, including Al-Jazeera and Channel 4, he told CPJ.

This year, CPJ has documented numerous detentions of journalists by Asayish forces in Iraqi Kurdistan and northeastern Syria, who have held journalists without charge, raided news rooms, and held some reporters for weeks.

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