Shar Press screenshot
A screen shot of journalists being attacked by the head of the girls’ dormitories at Iraqi Kurdistan’s Erbil Polytechnic University on February 19, 2023, while they were trying to cover a student protest. (Shar Press)

Iraqi Kurdistan university official attacks journalists covering student protest

On February 19, 2023, an official at the girls’ dormitories of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Erbil Polytechnic University attacked several journalists covering student protests and broke some of their equipment, according to news reports, videos posted on social media, and phone interviews with some of the journalists.

The students were protesting the lack of water, fuel, electricity, and other basic necessities at their dormitories. According to the journalists and CPJ’s review of videos that news outlets published online, the media crews that were obstructed from covering the protests were Esta Media Network, a network affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); the independent agency Bwar Media; Shar Press, an independent media agency owned by veteran journalist Kamal Rauf; NRT TV, owned by businessman and politician Shaswar Abdulwahid; Kobas, a media agency affiliated with the PUK; and Wllat, a media agency affiliated with the PUK.

All of the journalists were later allowed to continue their jobs, except for Bwar Media correspondent Nabaz Rashad, whose equipment was destroyed.

Esta News reporter Dyar Hussen, who along with his cameraman Ayub Salih were among the journalists attacked, told CPJ that “the dormitory’s authorities assigned a specific location for the journalists to cover from.”

Hussen said he covered the protest on Facebook Live without any issues, and then more media crews arrived and started covering it as well. Suddenly, Najat Zrar, head of the dormitory, “came out from the main gate of the dormitory and attacked us all,” said Hussen. “He threatened us and asked us to quit covering and turn off the cameras and mobile phones.”

Bwar Media’s Rashad told CPJ that Zrar “attacked us in front of other security forces. All of us journalists opposed his attempt and were determined to cover.”

Zrar broke Rashad’s mobile phone, neck mic, and lighting kits, ending his livestream, the journalist said.

Shar Press correspondent Hazhar Anwar told CPJ that “the attacker was abusing us verbally and warning us not to cover and to leave the place, but we opposed him and were keen to cover.”

Anwar said the team’s cameraman continued covering the protests after Anwar’s mobile phone and tripod being broken.

Reached for comment over the phone, Zrar told CPJ, “I didn’t want to attack them but to talk to them, but I admit that I was uncontrollably furious. It was a misunderstanding, and I’m ready to explain if needed.”

Separately, on February 20, security guards at the Region Trade Bank in Erbil interrupted NRT TV’s live stream coverage of a crowd gathered in front of the bank to exchange Iraqi dinars for U.S. dollars at a rate of 1,320 dinars to the dollar, which compared with the official rate of 1,530 dinars to the dollar.

NRT TV correspondent Choman Mahmood, who was covering the crowd with cameraman Ahmed Mohammed, told CPJ via phone that the crew was forced to leave. “The bank’s guards asked me to quit interviewing people standing in long queues and to stop covering,” he said. “They pushed me backwards and forced me to stop.”

CPJ reached out to the bank for comment via phone, but they declined to comment.

Local press freedom organization Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy documented 431 violations committed against 301 journalists and media outlets in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2022, including physical attacks, detentions, and threats.