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Statement on arrest of NRT Presenter and Director Shwan Adil

2019-12-08

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

RE: ARREST OF NRT’S SHWAN ADIL AND TARGETING OF NRT JOURNALISTS

December 8, 2019

 

Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) Director and Presenter Shwan Adil was arrested by a court in Sulaimani on December 8, 2019 on charges of violating Article 9 of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Journalism Law of 2007. The charges stem from a lawsuit filed by a University of Sulaimani administrator angry about a story published by NRT on March 10, 2019 about his record of publications as an academic. The judge has ordered that Adil be held until his trial date, which was set for two weeks after his arrest. Given the nature of the charges, he should be immediately be released on bail pending his trial.

This is only the latest in a pattern of behavior on the part of the Kurdistan Region’s government, parties, courts, and security forces against NRT and its staff. Those interests have time and time again used direct and indirect means in an attempt to intimidate NRT’s journalists and prevent them from covering the news in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. In fact, NRT has been a target of the authorities from its first broadcast in 2011, which covered protests against corruption. In retaliation, armed men believed to be members of the locally-dominant party attempted to burn the offices to the ground. No one has been prosecuted for that crime.

NRT journalists are routinely singled out by the authorities for heavy-handed and arbitrary treatment while reporting in the field: They are beaten, their equipment is seized, they are detained, and they are prevented from attending events while journalists from other outlets are allowed through. NRT offices have been attacked and shut down on numerous occasions in Erbil, Sulaimani, and Duhok. Its satellite broadcasts have been disrupted by rogue carrier signals.

NRT has also experienced harassment from federal authorities. On October 5, NRT’s office in Baghdad was smashed up by armed men for covering the ongoing protests in central and southern Iraq. The attack destroyed broadcast equipment and knocked NRT Arabic off the air. In November, NRT was named in a decision by the Communications and Media Commission, shutting down several Iraqi outlets for three months. So far, the order has not been implemented in the case of NRT.

More insidiously, NRT journalists are increasingly the target of harassing lawsuits by the Region’s authorities in an attempt to intimidate them into self-censorship. Both the KRG’s Journalism Law and the Iraqi Penal Code’s Law on Prevention of Misuse of Telecommunication Devices have been used in ways contrary to the spirit of those laws and the principles of free speech and expression and freedom of the press. In doing so, the courts show themselves to be more concerned with bowing to the desire of the Region’s political establishment to avoid criticism than with protecting democratic practice.

On November 5, the Kurdistan Region’s Journalists’ Syndicate said that press freedom was being undermined by harassing lawsuits like the one leveled against Adil. International watchdogs have taken note. On September 9, the Committee to Protect Journalists warned that press freedom was on “the brink of extinction” in the Region.

This harassment is continuous and severe. Last month, Adil was charged along with another NRT reporter of violating the Journalism Law by a court in Kalar for running a story about accusations by members of the public against a family member of one of the court’s judges. Adil and the reporter were released on bail of 20 million Iraqi dinars ($16,800) and the case remains active.

During the week leading up to Adil’s most recent arrest, an NRT team was briefly detained by the security forces in Sulaimani while reporting a story about apartment rentals, while another team’s equipment was nearly seized by the authorities while covering a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the assassination of journalist Kawa Garmiani.

The court in Sulaimani must immediately release Adil on bail pending his trial date, as is customary for charges for non-violent offenses. Moreover, we demand an end to the harassment of NRT and its journalists. The KRG, the Government of Iraq, the security forces, the parties, and the courts must adhere both to the laws protecting freedom of the press and expression and their spirit.

 

- Nalia Media Corporation (NRT)

 

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