Iraqi Kurdish journalist Omed Baroshky (left, photo by Mustafa Salih) was recently detained for his work. Separately, unidentified men attacked journalist KNN TV reporter Ahmad Mustafa (right, photo by Omer Hassan).

Journalists detained and attacked in Iraqi Kurdistan

Beirut, April 20, 2023—Iraqi Kurdistan authorities should immediately return equipment confiscated from the privately owned outlet Rast Media and ensure those who attacked a news crew for the local broadcaster KNN TV are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Monday, April 17, eight officers with the regional Asayish intelligence agency raided Rast Media’s office in the city of Duhok and detained director and founder Omed Baroshky and editor Yasir Abdulrahman, according to news reports and Baroshky and Abdulrahman, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

Officers held Baroshky and Abdulrahman at the Asayish’s local headquarters for about two hours and then released them without any explanation for the raid or their detention. Baroshky told CPJ that the officers confiscated four computers, two cameras, books, and other reporting equipment, and had not returned it as of Thursday.

Separately on Monday, two unidentified men attacked KNN TV reporter Ahmad Mustafa and camera operator Omer Khabati in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil, according to news reports and those journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone. In a statement later that day, the Erbil Asayish forces said that they had arrested one of the assailants.

“Iraqi Kurdistan authorities must immediately return all equipment confiscated from Rast Media and cease harassing its journalists, and ensure that those who separately attacked a team from KNN TV are held to account,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities must do more to protect members of the press from arbitrary detentions and attacks.”

Baroshky told CPJ that Asayish officers did not present any arrest warrant when they detained him and Abdulrahman. The officers locked the outlet’s office after the raid, and it remained closed as of Thursday while the organization’s staff continued to work remotely, Baroshky said.

Abdulrahman told CPJ that Asayish officers threatened that they would not be able to work from their office again. Authorities demanded Baroshky and Abdulrahman’s personal contact information and requested they comply with any future summons, they said.

In a statement, the Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy, a local press freedom group, said that Baroshky and Abdulrahman’s detention without a court order violated Kurdistan’s press law.

Baroshky was previously arrested in September 2020 and was imprisoned until February 2022 in retaliation for his posts on social media.

CPJ called Duhok Asayish Director Zeravan Baroshky for comment, but did not receive any reply.

In Erbil, Mustafa told CPJ that he was filming a show about Ramadan when “I was unexpectedly attacked by two unknown civilians.” The men punched Mustafa in the face and knocked him to the ground.

“The attack happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to react or even see the person coming towards me,” Mustafa said. “Within seconds, someone else attacked me from behind and snapped my neck down, they continued punching me without telling me why they were doing so.”

Khabati told CPJ that one of the assailants punched him in the head as well, and that he tried to film the attack but was unable to do so. Mustafa told CPJ that he had filed a lawsuit against the unknown assailant.

Photos and videos reviewed by CPJ show scratches on Musfata’s neck and face, and rips to his clothing.

KNN TV, the broadcast arm of the Kurdish News Network, is affiliated to the Change Movement political party.

CPJ called Erbil Asayish spokesperson Ashti Majeed for comment on the status of the investigation into the attack but did not receive any reply.