Media watchdog condemns attacks on Kurdish media over referendum coverage

Media watchdog condemns attacks on Kurdish media over referendum coverage
3 min read
29 September, 2017
Journalists in Iraq's Kurdish region have been threatened and forced into hiding while news outlets have been taken off the air amid referendum tension, Reporters Without Borders said.
RSF has compiled a list of violations of press freedom in Kurdistan [Getty]
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has lashed out at the Kurdistan Regional Government after attacks on journalists and news outlets during and after the referendum campaign.

RSF has compiled a list of violations of the freedom to inform in Kurdistan on the day of the referendum and in the run-up to the vote.

Journalists were banned from meetings and events involving top KRG officials, and claimed they had been threatened and detained for articles critical of the independence bid.

Meanwhile broadcasters were taken off the air and had their offices raided.

"The authorities must not neglect the public's right of access to freely reported news and information and the right to express critical opinions on matters of general interest, rights that are essential to the democratic debate," said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF's Middle East desk.

On the day of the vote, Turkey's High Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting (RTÜK) ordered the Turkish satellite operator Turksat to stop transmitting Rudaw TV, a pro-KRG TV channel, and then banned transmission of two other Kurdish TV channels, Kurdistan 24 and Waar TV, on the grounds that they were "dangerous for Turkish national interests".

In Kurdistan, four journalists with NRT TV, whose owner Shaswar Abdulwahid, campaigned against the referendum, were prevented from entering three voting stations in the city of Erbil. They were also barred from the Hotel Rotana, where several politicians voted.

The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has had NRT TV in its sights since 2015, RSF said.

As well as being suspended for eight hours on the eve of the referendum, it has been the target of several attacks and restrictions in recent weeks.

An NRT TV crew was prevented from covering the arrival of the KRG's president, Masoud Barzani, in Sulaymaniyah on September 20. Two other Kurdish TV channels Roj News and KNN, were also prevented from covering the address Barzani delivered in Kirkuk on September 12.

While the referendum received a great deal of international media coverage, local journalists and activists whose coverage was regarded as critical were the targets of intimidation by unidentified gunmen or by the security forces, RSF claimed.

Mohamad Wali, a cameraman with Roj News, which supports Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, was arrested on September 20 while covering a protest. His equipment was seized and he was held for eight hours.

Ahmed Shingaly, a Kurdish journalist of Yazidi origin, reported on Facebook on September 6 that four gunmen had smashed one of the windows of his car while it was parked outside his home.

He said the attack could have been a reprisal for his articles about the Yazidi community and his criticism of government corruption and certain corrupt officials.

Sherwan Sherwani, an outspoken journalist who actively supported the "No to the referendum" campaign, reported on Facebook on August 14 that he had gone into hiding because he had been threatened and because the security forces were looking for him.

The referendum was effectively banned by Iraq's supreme court and was criticised by a range of countries including Turkey, Iran, Syria and the United States. It was also condemned by the UN Security Council.

Iraq is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.