Iraqi Kurdish Asayish forces stand outside a school in Iraqi Kurdistan's northern city of Dohuk as pictured on October 7, 2021. Asayish forces raided and closed news website Gav News. (AFP/Ismael Adnan)

Iraqi Kurdish security forces raid, close office of news website Gav News in Duhok

New York, November 16, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the raid and closure by Iraqi Kurdish security forces of the Duhok office of the news website Gav News and called on Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to allow the staff to return to its office and ensure that members of the press are free to work without fear of reprisal.

On the morning of November 13, four Asayish security officers affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) raided the Gav News office in the northwestern Iraqi city of Duhok, ordered the staff to leave the premises and hand over the keys without a court order, and cordoned off the office to prevent entry, according to news reports and statements by the local press freedom organizations Metro Center for Advocacy and Journalists’ Rights, posting on Facebook, and the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq. None of the reports or statements provided details on how the office was cordoned, or the number of Gav News staff present.

According to the same sources, the officers ordered the employees not to discuss or comment on the raid and closure with other media outlets and threatened to arrest them if they did.

“If Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq continue raiding outlets and closing their offices, soon there will be nothing but the semblance of a free press in Iraqi Kurdistan,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “We call on the Kurdistan regional government to allow the staff of Gav News to return to its office immediately and ensure the press is free to report.”

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq said that the closure of the Gav News office took place amid a political dispute between Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani, whom Kurdish broadcaster NRT described as “close” to Gav News, and his cousin, Kurdish Prime Minister Masrour Barzani.

Gav News has not posted anything on its Facebook account or website since November 12, according to CPJ’s review.

In an email sent to CPJ after publication on November 17, Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan regional government’s international advocacy coordinator, said the “Kurdistan Regional Government is not involved in the closure of Gav News in Duhok.” CPJ also emailed Lawk Ghafuri, head of the Kurdistan regional government’s foreign media relations office, but received no response. CPJ wrote to Gav News via messaging app but did not receive a response.

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.