A woman hails a taxi while standing under Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) logos in Sulaymaniyah on April 28, 2014. PUK forces raided a new local broadcaster, iPLUS. (Reuters/Jacob Russell)

Iraqi Kurdish security forces raid office of broadcaster iPLUS amid dispute in ruling party

New York, July 14, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the raid by Iraqi Kurdish security forces of new local broadcaster iPLUS and called on Iraqi Kurdish authorities to allow iPLUS to resume its work immediately and ensure that members of the press are able to work freely and without fear of reprisal. 

On July 13, security forces affiliated with the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) raided iPLUS in Sulaymaniyah, in northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan, briefly detaining employees, and breaking and seizing broadcasting equipment, according to news reports, a statement on Facebook by iPLUS, and statements by press freedom groups Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy, which posted on Facebook, and the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAA). 

According to local news website Rudaw, iPLUS, which was scheduled to begin broadcasting soon, is affiliated with PUK co-chair Lahur Talabany. The raid comes amid tensions between Talabany and his cousin and fellow co-chair Bafel Talabany over the leadership of the party and the appointment of new heads of the PUK’s intelligence and counter-terrorism units, news reports said.

The PUK media office didn’t immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. 

“It is bad enough that journalists and news outlets in Iraqi Kurdistan are often caught between political parties. It is even more shameful that iPLUS is the victim of a dispute for leadership and control within a single party,” said Ignacio Miguel Delgado, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative. “Iraqi Kurdish authorities must allow iPLUS to resume its work immediately and ensure the press is free to report.” 

In a statement published yesterday, iPLUS said that at least 50 officers stormed into its office in Sulaymaniyah and held an unspecified number of employees for an hour. The officers vandalized the office, breaking doors and broadcasting equipment, seized broadcasting equipment and CCTV cameras, and turned off the building’s power, the statement said. 

Today, PUK-affiliated broadcaster Gali Kurdistan announced on Facebook that the PUK decided to give iPLUS’s office building in Sulaymaniyah to Ghali Kurdistan. In photographs provided to CPJ by local human rights group 17Shubat for Human rights, the building now has a green banner reading “Gali Kurdistan satellite channel” above the main entrance. 

CPJ wrote to iPLUS and Gali Kurdistan via messaging app and email but did not receive responses. 

According to the PFAA, security forces yesterday also ordered at least three news websites affiliated with Lahur Talabany — ZhyanChaw, and Ajans — to close their offices immediately.

An employee at Zhyan who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal told CPJ via messaging app that security forces drove in four cars to the Zhyan office yesterday evening but all the staff had left before they arrived. He told CPJ that the website has continued to publish news with the staff working from home. 

CPJ was unable to find contact information for Ajans; an email to Chaw went unanswered.