A street scene in Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan as pictured on October 26, 2020. Journalist Rebaz Hassan was arrested covering a protest in the city. (AFP/Shwan Mohammed)

Iraqi Kurdish security forces arrest reporter Rebaz Hassan

New York, April 26, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Kurdish authorities in the northeastern city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, to immediately release Rebaz Hassan, a reporter for the pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Firat News Agency. 

Yesterday evening, Asayish security forces affiliated with the opposition Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) arrested Hassan in Sulaymaniyah while he was covering a protest against Turkish military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to news reports, a statement by Hassan’s employer, and the local press freedom organization Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy. According to Hassan’s employer, the reason for his arrest and his current whereabouts are unknown. 

According to a news report by local broadcaster NRT, at least 25 people were arrested when trying to march in downtown Sulaymaniyah to protest the operations. 

“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq claim that press freedom is respected in the region, but this arrest indicates otherwise,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on local authorities to immediately release Rebaz Hassan without charge and allow journalists and media outlets to do their job freely and without fear of retaliation.”

The protest during which Hassan was arrested erupted in response to a new wave of Turkish military operations against PKK bases in northern Iraq, according to local news reports. As CPJ has documented, local journalists covering protests in Iraqi Kurdistan often face detention and arrest. 

Traditionally, PUK has been more accommodating of the PKK’s presence in Iraqi territory than the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), according to news reports

The PUK media office did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. In an email sent to CPJ after publication on May 2, Dindar Zebari, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, said that Hassan was detained for participating in an unlicensed demonstration and that the journalist was released the next day; his employer said he was released on April 27.

In February 2021, an Erbil criminal court sentenced freelance journalist Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, a reporter for the news website Wllat News, to six years in jail on flimsy evidence for allegedly destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan region, according to CPJ research.

Editor’s note: The seventh paragraph has been updated with a response from Dindar Zebari, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government’s coordinator for international advocacy, and with a link from Rebaz Hassan’s employer.