Widad Hussein

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Iraqi journalist Widad Hussein, an ethnic Kurd and a reporter for Roj News, a pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) news website, was killed on August 13, 2016, his employer told the Committee to Protect Journalists, confirming media reports. Hussein’s body was discovered with signs of torture on the Semel-Duhok highway in Iraqi Kurdistan that night. It was not immediately clear if Hussein was targeted because of his journalism, and CPJ is continuing to investigate.

An eyewitness told the news website Rudaw that he saw Hussein, 28, being dragged from his car at gunpoint by two men at 10 a.m. on August 13 in the Malta district of the northern Iraqi city of Duhok. The men forced a mask onto Hussein’s face and drove away, the witness said.

Roj News accused security forces loyal to the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which has de facto control in Duhok, of being responsible for Hussein’s torture and murder, a spokesperson for the outlet told CPJ. Roj News published graphic images of Hussein’s corpse, saying his body showed signs of torture. In a written statement, Roj News said Hussein had been detained by the KDP’s intelligence agency many times, and that he had been threatened after refusing to work as an informer. The KDP and the PKK are long-standing political opponents in Iraqi Kurdistan. The PKK has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the United States since 1997.

Hussein had been working for Roj News for two months before he was kidnapped, the spokesperson said. He had previously worked at the Duhok Ministry of Culture, but was dismissed because of his links with the PKK, a Roj News spokesperson said. The spokesman said Hussein had a camera marked as belonging to Roj News with him in the car.

"They had assassinated him in a cruel way. They had cut off three of his fingers, broken his leg and popped out both of his eyes," the journalist’s brother, Darband Hussein, told Rudaw.

"Since the day he joined the PKK, Widad was summoned by the security service about 10 times. The last time was three months ago, and they asked him each time to quit the PKK and work for them instead," Darband told Rudaw. "So we really suspect that the security service has killed him." A Duhok security official denied any connection to Hussein’s death, Rudaw reported.

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region and the leader of the KDP, condemned Hussein’s murder and ordered a "thorough investigation," NRT news reported.

Two ethnic-Kurdish Iraqi journalists told CPJ that Roj News is not a well-known website in the region.