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KRG, authorities use coronavirus outbreak as pretext to violate rights of journalists in Kurdistan Region: Metro Center

At least 98 violations in first six months of 2020
Journalists cover a press conference on Internaitonal Workers' Day in Sulaimani May 1, 2020 (Winthrop Rodgers/NRT Digital Media)
2020-07-05

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SULAIMANI — The Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy said on Sunday (July 5) that there were at least 98 separate violations against journalists in the Kurdistan Region over the first six months of 2020 and that the authorities have been using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to limit the freedom and access of journalists and media workers.

According to the watchdog, the violations involved 72 different journalists and included 53 cases of prevention, eleven cases of seizing and destroying equipment, nine cases of arrest without a warrant, eight cases of assault, seven cases of arrest outside the conditions of the journalism law, five cases of threats and blackmail, three cases of attacking journalists using social media, and two cases of harassment against female journalists.

The Metro Center said that media freedom in the Kurdistan Region deteriorated during the coronavirus outbreak, which began in March. The finding was corroborated by observations made by international watchdogs.

Instead of facilitating the work of media outlets and journalists, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), its ministries, and the security forces pressured journalists and, in some cases, even blamed the media for the spike in coronavirus cases, the Metro Center said.

NRT in particular was singled out by the authorities, facing three separate official calls for the channel to be shut down, all of which used the coronavirus outbreak as justification.

As part of a recent round of coronavirus-related public health orders issued by officials in Erbil, journalists from outside the governorate were restricted from entering.

The Metro Center noted that these violations came during a time when the media provided a vital public service and when many journalists risked their health to provide the public with information about the deadly disease.

“This is something to honor and not to criticize,” the watchdog said.

Beyond the coronavirus outbreak, the Kurdistan Region is facing multiple challenges for which journalists may receive backlash from the authorities, including deteriorating economic conditions and the failure of the KRG to pay public sector workers, the stumbling efforts to reach a comprehensive budget deal with Baghdad, and the recent renewal of Turkish military operations.

Iraq including the Kurdistan Region ranked 162 out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

(NRT Digital Media)