Kurdistan’s press pays for tackling
By Anna Fifield in Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan
October 4, 2008
Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan region "Iraq", —
For three nights out of every 14, Ahmed Mira does
not sleep at home. He no longer walks on the street
either, nor does he drive his own car anywhere.
Such is the life of an independent magazine editor
in Kurdistan, the northern Iraqi province where
journalists say they are coming under increasing
pressure not to write about government corruption.
“We are proud of not having red lines, of crossing
the boundaries and touching the most sensitive
issues,” says Mr Mira, editor of Lvin (“Movement”),
a fortnightly magazine that has homed in on corrupt
Such pride comes at a high price. One of Lvin’s
reporters, 23-year-old Soran Mama Hama, was gunned
down outside his home in Kirkuk in July, shortly
after writing about police links to a prostitution
ring. His picture now adorns every wall and door in
the Lvin office.
“Soran received threatening messages for three
months before he was killed,” says Mr Mira, who also
receives such calls, almost daily. Now, he stays
elsewhere immediately following publication to try
to avoid becoming a target at home.
While democratic Kurdistan is often heralded as a
role model for the rest of Iraq, the government – or
more specifically, the two parties that run almost
every facet of life in the semi-autonomous region –
are regularly accused of shady practices.
Lvin, circulation 25,000, and independent Kurdish
newspapers including Hawlati, Awene and Rozhnama are
leading the charge. Much more so than the rest of
Iraq, Kurdistan has a lively independent press
seeking to offer an alternative news diet.
“Our role is to bring about political change in this
society,” Mr Mira says in his office in
“We will try to change as much as we can, including
the two corrupt political parties who monopolise
everything,” he says,www.ekurd.net
referring to the
Kurdistan Democratic party, which is headed by
Massoud Barzani, the regional president, and the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani,
the president of Iraq.
Mr Mira says he is most proud of publishing stories
about Mr Barzani’s official residence, which the
magazine said was as secretive as an aircraft’s
black box recorder, and another entitled “The Sick
Man”, about Mr Talabani’s health.
The latter story led to Mr Mira spending 13 hours in
prison, accused of being a traitor. Independent
Kurdish papers say they are coming under increasing
pressure not to write such “unpatriotic” stories. Mr
Barzani this week told editors not to write about
corruption generally but rather to report specific
details of specific cases,www.ekurd.net
and to have the
documents to back up their claims, according to
three editors at the meeting.
“We will go on reporting corruption cases and the
games that the political parties play to try to
silence us,” says Karam Rahim, editor of Hawlati,
the biggest independent paper in Kurdistan, who says
he told the president he would not desist.
Hawlati (“Citizen”), which reaches more than 50,000
people each week, has been sued 35 times over
stories about corruption.
“We are working to make sure that corruption does
not become a habit among our people, and we are
working to improve our society so it becomes more
open minded and modern,” Mr Rahim says.
American officials in Iraq are concerned about
recent attempts to clamp down on the Kurdish press.
“There have been a number of instances in the past
six months in which reporters have been harassed,
detained, pressurised not to write about
corruption,” says a senior US official in Baghdad.
“Sometimes we really question the [regional
government’s] commitment to a truly democratic
The government denies suggestions it is corrupt or
undemocratic, and the president’s office refutes
claims it is putting pressure on any media outlets.
“There is no official pressure,” says Fuad Hussein,
the president’s chief of staff. “The president told
the editors that it’s their right to publish about
corruption but that when they accuse someone they
should have proof.
“They should not make black into white,” Mr Hussein
told the Financial Times. This was advice not
pressure, he added.
Regardless, Judit Neurink, a Dutch journalist who
runs the Independent Media Centre in Suleimaniya,
training Kurdish journalists, says the non-state
press is certainly “stirring things up”.
“Independent media are necessary in this country to
open up a few more eyes to what is really
happening,” Ms Neurink says, although she sometimes
has difficulty convincing reporters of the
difference between “freedom of the press” and
Mr Mira, for one, says he will not waver. “Yes, of
course it is very difficult,” he shrugs, “but we
must not bow to the pressure from the government.”
Copyright, respective author or news agency,
does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news
information on this page