Washington, D.C., August 20, 2020 – Iraqi Kurdish authorities should cease harassing broadcaster NRT, release journalist Ahmed Zakhoy without charge, and allow the outlet to report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, agents of the Asayish intelligence agency, affiliated with the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, raided NRT’s office in the western city of Duhok, according to a report from the broadcaster and the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, a local press freedom group.
Agents in Duhok governorate also arrested NRT reporters Nihad Oramar, Shkeran Zebari, and Ahmed Zakhoy yesterday, according to the broadcaster’s report and NRT Duhok correspondent Taef Goran, who spoke told CPJ via messaging app.
Authorities released Zebari and Oramar without charge after a few hours, but Zhakoy remains in custody, according to Goran and that report. Goran added that officers confiscated Oramar’s broadcast equipment during his arrest and have not returned it.
Today, Asayish agents also raided NRT’s Erbil office and shut it down, according to the broadcaster and the Metro Center’s reports. NRT has continued working from its headquarters in Sulaymaniyah.
“Iraqi Kurdish authorities must free journalist Ahmed Zakhoy immediately and unconditionally, return any equipment confiscated in recent raids and arrests, and allow NRT to operate freely,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “This escalating harassment of NRT is unfair and undemocratic, and begs the question why authorities are so scared of the broadcaster that they have to shutter its offices.”
During the raids, Asayish agents forced all NRT employees out of the Erbil and Duhok offices and then chained the buildings closed, according to the broadcaster’s report and NRT Erbil Bureau Chief Rebwar Kakay, who told CPJ via messing app that agents did not provide any explanation for the raids or detentions.
Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s deputy minister for international advocacy coordination, sent a statement to CPJ today saying that NRT was suspended “for the meantime” for alleged incitement stemming from its coverage of recent civil unrest.
Last week, Asayish agents raided NRT’s Duhok office and held staffers inside for several hours, and also detained a crew covering protests in Erbil, as CPJ documented at the time. The regional government has repeatedly threatened and harassed NRT in recent months, according to CPJ research.
NRT is owned by Shasrwar Abdul-Wahid, the leader of the New Generation opposition movement.