Watchdogs call on Duhok authorities to release journalist Qaraman Shukri

Residents in Shiladze sub-district protest on Saturday June 20, 2020 (Photo Credit: NRT Digital Media)

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SULAIMANI — Local and international journalist rights watchdogs are calling on the authorities in Duhok governorate to release freelance journalist Qaraman Shukri, who was arrested on June 27 in his hometown of Shiladze.

Shukri is a contributor to RojNews, which is close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and KNN, an outlet affiliated with the Change Movement (Gorran).

The detained journalist had made critical comments about the recent Turkish airstrikes on targets in the Kurdistan Region and the relative silence of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and local parties, in particular during a June 19 interview with Sterk TV, another outlet that is close to the PKK.

Family members, other journalists, and activists told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that they believed that his speaking out on the issue was the reason for his arrest, but Asayish Duhok Command denied this to local journalism watchdog Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy.

“We are very concerned about the arrest of Qaraman Shukri, given the Iraqi Kurdish Asayish forces’ poor track record on respecting the rights of freelance journalists,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado said in a statement.

“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq must explain immediately their grounds for holding Qaraman Shukri or release him.”

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is the most powerful party in the governorate and controls the security forces there, including the Asayish.

Shukri has reportedly been denied visits from family and a lawyer, according to Duhok-based human rights lawyer Reving Yassin Nabi, who communicated with CPJ.

Both the Metro Center and the 17Shubat for Human Rights have released statements condemning the journalist’s arrest and calling for his release.

Four civilians were killed in a Turkish airstrike near Shiladze on June 19, which sparked protests in the town. The local security forces moved in quickly to break them up. Shukri’s interview with Sterk had been in part to comment on that deadly airstrike.

The arrest is another disturbing sign of a serious deterioration of the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in Duhok.

On May 13, the security forces violently broke up a demonstrate in Duhok city, arresting approximately 100 people who had gathered to protest against a government decision to delay disbursement of public sector salaries.

Two organizers of the protest were arrested in the early morning hours before it had even taken place, one of whom was held in custody for fifteen days.

On Jun 26, as they were traveling to cover another protest in Shiladze, an NRT reporting team was stopped in Deraluk and their equipment was seized by the local security forces.

According to the Metro Center, there were at least 98 separate violations against journalists in the Kurdistan Region over the first six months of 2020.

(NRT Digital Media)