New York, October 27, 2020 — Iraqi Kurdish authorities should immediately release journalist Guhdar Zebari, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 22, Kurdish security forces raided the house of Zebari, a reporter and editor for the news website Wllat News, in the northern Kurdish city of Akre, arrested him and took him to an unknown destination, according to news reports, the local press freedom group Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, and Wrya Hussein, the editor-in-chief of Wllat News, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app yesterday.
Ayhan Saeed, the Metro Center’s representative in Duhok, told CPJ via messaging app on yesterday that at least 13 sport utility vehicles showed up at Zebari’s house for the arrest.
Saeed sent a video to CPJ showing Zebari’s room immediately after the raid, with the contents of the closets and mattresses scattered. According to Saeed, security forces searched for Zebari’s laptops and cell phones, and seized all the electronic devices in the house, including those of Zebari’s wife and daughter and two visiting relatives.
“We don’t know yet where he is being held. We don’t know the identity of the force that arrested him or the grounds for his arrest,” Saeed added.
“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq must stop arresting journalists on a whim and holding them indefinitely, without even disclosing charges,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan to immediately release Guhdar Zebari and stop trying to silence the press by arresting journalists with zero due process.”
“In recent weeks, Zebari has been living in fear and in hiding because he was receiving threatening messages,” Hussein said. “We are deeply concerned about the well-being of our reporter.”
Hussein added that Zebari had recently been working on the launch of the Kurmanji dialect version of Wllat News, but the threats forced him to go into hiding. Zebari previously worked for broadcaster NRT, which Kurdish authorities have repeatedly harassed by raiding its offices and arresting its journalists.
In an email today, Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s coordinator for international advocacy, said he would look into Zebari’s arrest and get back to CPJ as soon as possible.
According to CPJ research, Zebari has been assaulted and detained several times and has had his equipment seized and broken. In a Q&A with CPJ in mid-May 2020, Zebari said that he and a group of colleagues were documenting the murders of people who were killed over freedom of expression or political activism in the Badinan region between 1990 and 2020, covering Turkish airstrikes in areas bordering Turkey, and reporting on corruption and embezzlement.