Journalists are seen in the NRT newsroom in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq, on August 22, 2020. Kurdish authorities recently filed a lawsuit threatning to suspend the broadcaster. (AFP/Shwan Mohammed)

Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government files suit against broadcaster NRT for protest coverage

New York, August 24, 2020 — The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government yesterday announced a lawsuit against local broadcaster NRT in response to its coverage of recent protests in the region, according to a statement sent to CPJ via email today by Dindar Zebari, the regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy.

“The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s new lawsuit against NRT, along with the closure of the broadcaster’s Erbil and Duhok offices and the ongoing detention of reporter Ahmed Zakhoy, blatantly contradict the Kurdish authorities’ claim that press freedom is guaranteed in the region,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Press freedom entails allowing coverage of events of public interest and viewpoints that differ from the government line. Kurdish authorities should immediately drop the lawsuit and allow NRT to operate freely.”

In yesterday’s statement, the Ministry of Youth and Culture announced that it filed suit against NRT for allegedly violating Article 2 of Law 12 of 2010, which bars encouraging a public disturbance or harming social harmony, in response to NRT’s coverage of recent protests, including over unpaid government salaries.

If found guilty, authorities could suspend the outlet for up to one week or terminate NRT’s broadcast license; a hearing has been set for September 9 in the case, according to the statement.

On August 19 and 20, Asayish security forces affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan raided and shut down NRT’s offices in Erbil and Duhok, as CPJ documented at the time. NRT reporter Ahmed Zakhoy was arrested on August 19 and remains in custody, according to NRT. However, in his statement, Zebari denied that any NRT reporter or correspondent is currently detained.