Mounting tension between ruling parties
and journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the
tension between Kurdistan’s ruling parties and
security forces, on the one hand, and its
journalists and news media, on the other. Magazine
editor Hemn Karim’s detention for more than 24 hours
during the weekend and a spate of libel actions are
the latest examples of this fraught climate.
Reporters Without Borders takes the opportunity to
remind Kurdistan’s journalists of the importance of
respecting professional ethics and of distinguishing
between reporting the facts and defamatory
Nonetheless, a wave of
defamation suits seems to be eroding press freedom,
especially as they often are being brought after the
legally-permitted period has expired. Under
Kurdistan’s press law, a legal action must be
brought within 90 days but in most cases plaintiffs
are not respecting the deadline and it is not being
enforced by the courts.
Karim, the editor of the weekly magazine Fshar, was
arrested after participating in a news conference in
the Palace Hotel in Sulaimaniyah on 18 September.
Ironically, its purpose was to condemn all the
violations against journalists and to defend freedom
of opinion and expression in the autonomous
Kurdistan Region. He was released at around 10 p.m.
on 19 September after paying 250,000 dinars in bail.
The police said he was arrested for failing to
respond to a court summons. Karim denied this. The
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two
main parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government
(KRG), sued Fshar for 500 million dinars in damages
on 22 August.
Spate of lawsuits
The KDP sued four other publications on 22 August as
well: Lvin Magazine, Awene, Hawlati and Rega.
Awene is being sued for 500 million dinars in
damages over an article in issue 214 on 9 March
headlined “Opposition parties say Erbil is no
exception as regards electoral fraud” and a column
by Aziz Rauf in the same issue headlined “President,
you are complicating things,” which questioned
whether Massoud Barzani should continue to be KRG
The other three magazines are being sued over
articles suggesting that the KDP or Barzani himself
was involved in last May’s murder of journalist
Sardasht Osman. Lvin Magazine is being sued for 500
million dinars for suggesting this in issues 126 and
127 (on 10 and 20 May). Hawlati is being sued in
connection with articles in issue 611 (pages 1 to 5
and 16). Rega is being sued for 1 billion dinars
over a story headlined “KDP regarded as Sardasht’s
murderer” on pages 7-11 of issue 16 (published in
Awene editor Shwan Muhammad and Hawlati editor Kamal
Rauf appeared in court in Erbil on 19 September in
connection with these lawsuits. The court rejected
their request for their cases to be transferred from
KRG capital, to Sulaimaniyah. They have decided to
appeal against this ruling.
The KDP also sued the weekly Rojname for 1 billion
dollars in damages on 25 July over a report accusing
the KDP and its main coalition partner, the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), of involvement
in smuggling petroleum products to the Islamic
Republic of Iran. The KDP also demanded the weekly’s
When the trial opened on 8 August in Erbil,
Rojname’s lawyers asked for the case to be heard in
Sulaimaniyah instead of Erbil. The court was
supposed to issue its ruling on this request on 23
August but has not yet done so.
Reporters Without Borders points out that
journalists are also forbidden to film inside the
KRG parliament in Erbil.
Ansar Al-Islam denies
murdering Sardasht Osman
The radical Islamist group Ansar Al-Islam has
meanwhile denied any role in Sardasht Osman’s
murder. The denial was issued in response to the
communiqué released on 15 September by President
Barzani’s commission of enquiry accusing Ansar
Al-Islam of killing Osman.
“Sardasht had no link with us and we are not linked
to his murder,” the Ansar Al-Islam statement said.
“All this is nothing but a lie (...) We have a duty
to shed the blood of the enemies of God such as the
American forces and their agents in the KDP and PUK.
God will be grateful to us for this. But we did not
kill Sardasht. When we kill someone, we proudly
Osman’s brother, Hajar Osman, has resigned from his
position as lieutenant in charge of checkpoints in
the Erbil region in protest against the commission
of enquiry’s allegations.
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