‘Violence and Intimidation’: 385 violations against 291 journalists, media agencies in Kurdistan Region during 2020: Metro Center

Situation is ‘so bad and insecure’ for journalists
A member of the Asayish in Sulaimani seizing a camera from an NRT reporting team who were covering a protest in the city on May 2, 2020. (NRT Digital Media)

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SULAIMANI — Adding to the evidence that the Kurdistan Region experienced a serious erosion of press freedom last year, the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy said on Saturday (January 16) that it recorded 385 violations against 291 journalists and media agencies during 2020.

There were an additional 120 violations against journalists and outlets from the Kurdistan Region that occurred in areas not controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) involving 83 journalists and media outlets.

In its annual report, this year entitled “Violence and Intimidation,” the watchdog said that the KRG took “all hard and harsh measures against the freedom of press for the purpose of silencing free and different voices.”

“The year 2020 was so bad and insecure,” it said of the situation.

Addressing specific violations, Metro Center found that there were 163 instances where journalists and media outlets were prevented from conducting their reporting duties and 74 instances where journalists were arrested or detained without a court order.

Thirty journalists, reporters, and media workers were arrested and not charged in accordance with the Region’s Press Law, but rather with crimes like defamation or violating the communications device misuse law.

Forty-eight reporters and media workers were menaced, assaulted, or verbally abused. Eight female journalists were subjected to harassment.

There were 42 instances where the authorities confiscated journalistic equipment. On six other occasions, equipment was broken by the security forces.

Eight reporters and journalists were forced by the security forces to sign letter pledging to not cover certain events.

Four channels were shut down and there were two jamming or electronic attacks on media outlets.

Several of the violations involved NRT offices and staff, including arrests, assaults, lawsuits, equipment confiscations, and the forced closure of its offices in Sulaimani, Duhok, and Erbil for extended periods.

Regarding the violations against journalists and media agencies that occurred outside the Kurdistan Region, there were 71 instances of prevention, 30 detentions and arrests without a court order, nine equipment confiscations, and seven instances of assault or disrespect.

Additionally, two media workers were coerced into signing pledge letters and one was abducted.

Metro Center’s Diyari Muhammad said at a press conference that the advocacy organization has appealed to Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, and Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani to ensure that the ability of journalists to work is respected and that the Press Law is used in the case of any disputes involving their official duties.

“During our meetings with them, we called on the US, British, and French consulates to encourage the Kurdistan Regional Government to expand press freedom, free expression, and [the ability to hold] demonstrations, which are critical activities for developing democracy in the Kurdistan Region,” Muhammad added.

Responding to the report’s troubling findings at a press conference, Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Rewaz Fayaq agreed that the state of press freedom has deteriorated in the Kurdistan Region.

“The state of media was better some years ago than now and the situation has worsened,” she said.

Just over a week ago, one of the Kurdistan Parliament's guards accosted a journalist while he was conducting an interview with an opposition lawmaker in the plaza in front. of the parliament building.

Metro Center and local watchdogs were joined this year by international organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, in expressing their dismay about the worsening situation in the Kurdistan Region.

(NRT Digital Media)