Metro Center records nine violations against journalists in Kurdistan Region since coronavirus curfew implemented

Warns KRG 'not to underestimate' Region's journalists

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SULAIMANI — The Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy on Thursday (March 26) warned the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) not to underestimate the work of journalists, adding that it has recorded nine violations against journalists in the Kurdistan Region since the coronavirus curfew was imposed on Sulaimani and Erbil on March 14.

On March 14, NRT reporter Hakar Amedi was prevented from going to his workplace and was barred from entering the Haji Omaran border crossing on March 18 during a visit by KRG Minister of Finance Awat Janab.

In Haji Omaran town, Roj News reporter Zozig Hamad Mina was prevented by the security forces from doing his work on March 22 and Nas News cameraman Awder Omar was prevented from filming in Sulaimani while doing a live broadcast the same day.

On March 25 in Chwarqwrna, two teams from Payam and Speda media agencies covering a coronavirus story were stopped at a checkpoint belonging to the Peshmerga Force Unit 70, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-affiliated unit. The reporters who were involved – Brwa Ali, Barzan Ahmad, and Renas Arsalan – told Metro Center that their teams were “attacked and ridiculed.”

On the afternoon of March 24, a BMC TV team made up of cameraman Zana Jalal and reporter Peshawa Bakhtiar were attacked by the security forces with tasers while trying to cover a story at the Sulaimani currency exchange market.

Speda TV reporter Azad Said and cameraman Muhammad Hussein were arrested at Dasnia Police Station in Duhok and Prs Media’s Omed Haji Baroshki was arrested at Nawroz Police Station following complaints from a member of the Kurdistan Parliament.

On the afternoon of March 20, Safin Hamid and Shvan Harki from the AFP and Middle East Images agencies were prevented from going to Akre and were stopped at the Bexma checkpoint.

Police in Shaqlawa arrested Huner Mzouri who identified himself as working for Al Jazeera. He was later released after paying 10 million Iraqi dinars ($8,400) in bail. After this article was first published, an Al Jazeera employee told NRT Digital Media that none of their employees had been arrested and Mzouri was longer employed by the network.

On March 14, the KRG implemented a curfew on Sulaimani and Erbil cities in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The curfew was later expanded to the entire Region and looks like it will extend well into April. So far, more than 100 people in the Region have been infected by the virus and two have died.

Along with members of the security forces and health workers, journalists were exempted from the order in order to continue to report the news and bring the public important information about the outbreak and the government’s response.

To give legal weight to that, the KRG issued Directives 11 and 13, which were signed by Minister of Interior Rebar Ahmad and said: “the curfew and travel restrictions does not include reporters and members of news agencies, if they have an ID from the agencies they work for while travelling.”

The laws of the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 protect freedom of expression and the press.

Nevertheless, the KRG and the Region’s ruling parties frequently and routinely violate those rights, using government and party security forces, plainclothes officers, and the courts and employing tactics of violence, harassment, and intimidation to do so.

Those violations in the Kurdistan Region have been extensively documented by local watchdogs like Metro Center, labor unions like the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate, international advocacy groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, and foreign governments, most recently the United States in its damning 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq.

While media freedom is critical to functioning democratic systems in ordinary times, during periods of crisis it is even more important to the task of holding government to account and ensuring that the rights, freedoms, and well-being of the citizenry are upheld and protected.

(NRT Digital Media)

This story was updated to clarify the employment status of Huner Mzouri on March 27 at 5:43 p.m. EBL.