Syrian-Kurdish authority continues press crackdown with Rudaw suspension

Syrian-Kurdish authority continues press crackdown with Rudaw suspension
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly cracked down on journalists over the past year, with a focus on media outlets affiliated with authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have tense relations with their counterparts in Syrian Kurdistan.
3 min read
07 February, 2022
The Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria have suspended opposition news outlets and arrested several journalists. [DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty]

Two media outlets have been suspended and two journalists arrested in Kurdish-controlled northwest Syria, according to numerous reports by local media.

Kurdish broadcaster and news site Rudaw - headquartered in Erbil, Iraq - was suspended from working in Syria's northeast on Saturday by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

The media group is affiliated with the Iraq-based Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has tense relations with the local authority in northeast Syria.

"The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, has decided to suspend the work of Rudaw Media Network and its staff," the channel said in a statement on Sunday.

"Rudaw Media Network considers this a political decision and a crime against freedom of the press in Western Kurdistan... The decision by the Autonomous Administration lacks legal grounds and is coming from thin political and partisan considerations."

Two journalists were also detained by the Syrian-Kurdish-led authority over the weekend.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) called on the local authority to release the two journalists, Sabri Mohammad Fakhri, a reporter for the local ARKTV, and Bawer Malla Ahmad, a reporter for Yekiti Media Website.

The reporters were detained by the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), the military branch of the Syrian-Kurdish administration, during raids on their homes on Saturday. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

"We fear they may be subjected to torture and go on to become forcibly disappeared, as is the case for 85% of detainees," the SNHR wrote in a statement. 

The two journalists also work for media linked to the KDP, which controls the autonomous Kurdistan province of Iraq.

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Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan are led by two Kurdish parties with tense relations.

Syrian Kurdistan is dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), widely considered to be an offshoot of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdistan is led by figures from the KDP, which is staunchly opposed ideologically to the PKK and by extension, to the PYD.

Tensions between the two groups have regularly escalated into media turf wars with devastating consequences on local journalists. 

In June 2021, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria revoked the license of Kurdistan 24 and closed their offices in Qamishli and Kobane, citing concerns that the outlet "spread hate and incited violence".

In July 2021, three media activists linked to the KPD were also arrested. Meanwhile, five journalists were jailed by authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan in March 2021 in relation to their coverage of anti-KPD protests. 

Human rights monitors have repeatedly denounced a growing number of attacks on press freedom committed by Kurdish militias in northeast Syria and by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria over the past few year.

This includes the suspension of AFP journalist Delil Suleiman in January for a period of two weeks after covering a sit-in protest against the authorities in the city of Qamishli.