An Iraqi soldier stands next to graffiti left by an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in Sinjar, Iraq. on December 4, 2020. Alleged PKK supporters attacked a Kurdistan 24 broadcast crew in Sulaymaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan, on May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Samya Kullab)

Alleged PKK supporters attack Kurdistan 24 broadcast crew in Iraqi Kurdistan

On May 18, 2022, a group of unidentified alleged supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked a three-member Kurdistan 24 television crew in the Sulaymaniyah province of Iraqi Kurdistan while they were covering an investigation into the murder of the head of the PKK-affiliated Mesopotamia Workers Organization, according to a report by the broadcaster and the journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone.

The PKK, a militant group and political party active in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, is listed as a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey, and other countries.

The Kurdistan 24 crew—correspondent Diyar Jamal, cameraman Karwan Yara, and driver Soran Hakim—was attacked in front of the province’s forensic medicine department in Sulaymaniyah those sources said. The crew was covering the delivery of the body of the murder victim, Zaki Chalabi, by his friends and relatives.

On May 17, two unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle had fired at a restaurant Chalabi owned in the Bakhtiyari neighborhood of Sulaymaniyah, hitting him, Iraqi-Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported. Chalabi was reported dead the next day after undergoing two surgeries.

Esta media, a news website affiliated with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs Sulaymaniyah province, reported on its Facebook page that the journalists were severely beaten by PKK supporters.

Jamal told CPJ via phone that “there were about 20 to 30 supporters” of the PKK, and that they “tried to force us to report that Turkey was involved in the killing of the restaurant owner, even though the investigation hasn’t yet been concluded. So we refused to do so.”

“They abused and chanted slogans against us, they accused us of working in favor of MIT,” which is Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, Jamal said, adding, “Right away, they attacked and beat us badly. Our clothes were all torn.”

The three journalists ran off in different directions, leaving their equipment behind, except the camera, Jamal said, adding, “They looted the voice receiver and the car keys, our mic was later found destroyed, our cameraman could run with his camera.”

Jamal said the security forces and other journalists intervened. “The security forces fired bullets into the air to disperse the assailants and rescued us,” he said.

Hakim told CPJ that, “despite of security forces’ attempt to protect me, they took me three times and beat me very badly. Even when I ran to take a taxi, they get me out of the taxi and beat me again.” His body is “full of bruises and cuts,” he said.

Yara told CPJ that he escaped via taxi, without sustaining any series injuries. “Many people gathered around us and assaulted us,” he said. “I hugged my camera and live streaming device and ran to the security forces and asked for protection.”

In a joint press conference on May 18, Metro Center for Journalist Rights and Advocacy and the Sulaymaniyah branch of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, condemned the attack. The two regional press freedom groups stressed that “no one should interfere in the journalists’ work or tell them how to report the event while conducting their media coverage.”

In a statement issued following the attack, Kurdistan 24 described the attack as “an infringement on the freedom of the press.”

“We would like to make it clear to everyone that Kurdistan 24 has always professionally covered events, and it will never stop its professional work in telling the truth through its media coverage,” said the broadcaster, which is supportive of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.

CPJ reached out to Sarkawt Ahmed, the spokesperson of Sulaymaniyah police, via phone and left a message, but did not receive an immediate response.