Zaynadin, a Kurdish News Network (KNN) cameraman and correspondent, died in unclear circumstances in the countryside near Amedi in the Iraqi Kurdistan province of Duhok, on November 29, 2016, according to his family and the station he worked for. Mirza Karo, a friend of the journalist who was cited in reports as saying the pair had been on a hunting trip at the time of Zaynadin’s death, took the family to his body on December 1, according to reports.
Authorities have given conflicting accounts of how the journalist died, according to local human rights group 17Shubat and the Kurdish media network Rudaw TV. The family and news reports that cited initial police and medical statements said that Zaynadin was shot. Later police and medical reports said that the journalist was killed by a wild animal and that no gunshot wounds were found on the body, according to news reports and the family.
The journalist’s family told CPJ through a translator that Zaynadin had been missing for two days before Karo came to their home to tell them he died while hunting. The family said that Zaynadin had never previously left on a trip without telling them where he was going.
Zaynadin worked for KNN, a Kurdistan-based television and online news agency closely affiliated with Kurdistan’s opposition Change (Gorran) Movement party. The journalist’s son, Qahraman Zaynadin, told CPJ that his father had been threatened several times because of his affiliation with the station–where he had been working since 2011–and the Change Movement. The son said that four days before the journalist died, an anonymous caller phoned Zaynadin and threatened to kill him if he did not leave KNN. Zaynadin received similar death threats two months before that, Qahraman Zaynadin said.
Qahraman Zaynadin said that his father had been working on a report about Turkish airstrikes along the Turkey-Iraq border area, a sensitive issue in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2013, Zaynadin was detained by the Kurdish Democratic Party’s security forces due to his employment with KNN, the channel reported. It did not provide further details.
Ragaz Kamal Mohammed Ali, the co-founder of 17Shubat for Human Rights, told CPJ that he had spoken with Karo about Zaynadin’s death. Karo told him that after the friends became separated during a hunting trip he heard two gunshots and Zaynadin shouting for help, followed by two additional gunshots. Karo told Ali that he found Zaynadin dead 20 minutes later.
Karo works for the Zeravani, the regional government’s militarized police force, Ali told CPJ.
A technical issue prevented CPJ from immediately contacting Karo for comment.
Ali said that Duhok police and the Commission of Doctors, an official organization within the Kurdistan regional government, changed their conclusion of how Zaynadin died three times and prevented KNN staff from seeing Zaynadin’s body at the hospital. Ali, who has spoken with the journalist’s son, told CPJ that the Commission of Doctors initially told the family Zaynadin was shot, but that doctors later called the family to say he was killed by a wild animal. The official autopsy report states he was killed by an animal, the family and Ali said. A medical examination citied in news reports stated that Zaynadin was killed by an animal and made no mention of gun injuries.
Some outlets reported that Zaynadin’s family said initially that the journalist accidentally shot himself or that he had been killed by a wild animal. One report published a photo of a boar that it said was found near to where Zaynadin died. The journalist’s family told CPJ they had been misquoted in earlier news reports about the cause of Zaynadin’s death and that they believe he was killed for his work with KNN and the Change Movement.
CPJ’s 2014 report, “Mountain of Impunity Looms Over Kurdistan Journalists” found journalists in the region are at risk of beatings, kidnap, and threats, with attackers often going unpunished. Journalists interviewed for the report said the climate of impunity makes it risky to cover sensitive issues.
At a meeting between KNN and Roueida El Hage, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq Human Rights Office in the Kurdistan Region, El Hage told the channel the U.N. would investigate Zaynadin’s death, the channel reported in December 2016.
The mission’s office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.