His Excellency Masrour Barzani
Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq
Sent via email: [email protected]
Dear Prime Minister Barzani,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, write to express our grave concern regarding the recent deterioration of press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan and call on you to condemn the recent intimidation of local news outlets and to do everything in your power to ensure they are able to carry out their work freely and safely without fear of reprisal. We also urge you to use your authority to bring an end to the harassment of broadcaster NRT, and to immediately release all imprisoned journalists.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Youth and Culture recently warned the local broadcasters Rudaw, Speda, and Payam that coverage of scenes of violence during the ongoing protests in Iraqi Kurdistan over unpaid salaries for public servants, or the broadcasting of material that incites violence and sabotages or disturbs social cohesion, would result in severe legal action.
Earlier this month, the same ministry also suspended the broadcaster NRT for two weeks in Sulaymaniyah over its coverage of the protests, following a string of warnings and lawsuits from different ministries and offices and the two-month closure of the broadcaster’s offices in Erbil and Duhok. Although NRT was allowed to resume operations in Sulaymaniyah on December 20, its broadcasting equipment has been damaged.
In addition, CPJ research and reporting shows that at least three journalists are currently imprisoned in Iraqi Kurdistan and the detention and assault of journalists who cover protests across the region has become increasingly widespread in 2020.
These concerning developments blatantly contradict the Kurdistan Regional Government’s obligations under law. In 2007, the Kurdistan regional Government passed a Press Law that grants the freedom of the press and freedom of expression and publication, and states that no publication should be closed down.
The law also clearly details the fines that journalists should pay if they are found guilty of charges including defamation or fostering discord within society and states that the opinion disseminated by journalists should not be used to cause injury to them or violate their rights.
This law is rendered meaningless by the Kurdish authorities’ constant circumvention and use of either the Iraqi Penal Code or the Law on Misuse of Communication Devices to try journalists for defamation and anti-state charges over their criticism of local authorities, as CPJ has found in its research.
Between the current protests in Iraqi Kurdistan and the global COVID-19 pandemic, access to the latest news and analysis from a variety of sources is more important than ever, and it is essential that journalists and media outlets are permitted deliver the news without fear of retaliation from local governments.
The Kurdish Regional Government has always prided itself as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. During a meeting with a CPJ delegation in 2008, former Kurdish President Masoud Barzani pledged to create an atmosphere that is conducive to journalism and expressed his rejection of arrests on freedom of expression charges.
We urge you to live up to that promise by allowing the free exercise of press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Stopping the constant harassment of NRT, releasing imprisoned journalists, and allowing local broadcasters and journalists to carry out their work freely and safely without fear of reprisal would send a strong signal of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s commitment to press freedom.
Deputy Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists