Civil society condemns attacks against journalists and closure of media outlets in Iraqi Kurdistan


Freedom of expression came under severe threat in Iraqi Kurdistan in March and April, according to the Metro Center for Defending the Rights of Journalists, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Committee to Protect Journalists. On 25th March 2018, journalists covering protests were arbitrarily detained, while others were severely beaten and had their equipment confiscated. In addition, several media outlets were shut down. Journalists Aras Aziz and Mutalib Khoshawe with the Payam satellite channel were arrested, as well as the correspondent of the Speda TV channel, Akar Fares. Reports note that these three journalists were subsequently released. 

During the same protest, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 15 journalists were assaulted and had their equipment confiscated. Those attacked included Yaser Abdulrahman with Xendan TV channel and Hana Shwani, who was severely beaten while being held in a security centre in Erbil before his release. In addition, Wrya Hama Karim with NRT TV channel, Dibreen Sherwani with Kurdsat News, journalist Bashar Osman and journalist Sirwan Zebari were beaten after being arbitrarily detained. They were all later released. 

In a statement, Metro Centre and GCHR condemned: 

"...this vicious attack on journalists, media and press organisations in the region. The arrest of journalists and the closure of media outlets poses a threat to the safety of journalists and the independence of their work".

In a separate incident on 20th April 2018, Essa Al-Atwani, a reporter with NRT TV in Babil governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan, was attacked by an unknown group of people who rammed into the reporter's car then assaulted him as he attempted to leave the vehicle. GCHR reports that he was beaten unconscious but managed to get to a hospital, despite sustaining fractures in his face nose and jaw. Al-Atwani has been an active reporter with the NRT TV channel since 2017. Recently, he covered a news story on candidates for the May Iraqi elections who put up posters and pictures in the municipality of Hillah without official approval or in prohibited places. It is feared that the attack is related to his recent reports.

Peaceful Assembly

The use of excessive force in response to protests in Iraqi Kurdistan in late March 2018 has drawn sharp condemnation from international groups. The unrest began after Kurdish public servants gathered to protest corruption and austerity measures. According to Amnesty International, protesters were beaten and harassed. Other reports indicated that riot police used tear gas to disperse protesters. The video below captures one incident during the protest where a female protester was accosted by a plain-clothed member of the Iraqi security forces.