Activists, journalists arrested in Badinan are ‘spies,’ KRG PM alleges without evidence

Remarks add to evidence of KRG hostility to free press
Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (File)

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SULAIMANI — Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Masrour Barzani on Wednesday (February 10) accused journalists and activists who were arrested by his party’s affiliated security forces in Duhok governorate’s Badinan area last year of being “spies.”

In response to protests in Duhok and Erbil governorates during the summer and autumn, the security forces in those areas, which are controlled by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), arrested dozens of people in an effort to suppress public expressions of dissent amid deteriorating economic conditions and public sector pay cuts and delays.

Some were released on bail, but others remain in custody, including teacher and activist Badal Barwari and journalists Omed Baroshki, Guhdar Zebari, Sherwan Sherwani, and Qaraman Shukri. At least sixteen are believed to be in custody at the moment.

Some have been in custody for almost six months.

During a press conference, Barzani alleged that those detainees worked for other countries, describing them as “destructive and armed.”

“Some of them have tried to blow up buildings and to kill and abduct foreigners in the Region,” he said without providing evidence to back his claims.

Barzani further alleged that their cover was as journalists and activists, but “behind the curtains they did other things.”

“We support the rights of journalists and freedom of expression in every way, but anyone who wants to disturb the security under any name or disguise will be dealt with through the law,” he threatened.

On February 7, some of the detainees' family members were arrested by KDP-affiliated security forces in Erbil in front of the United Nations’ office as they tried to protest the continued imprisonment of their relatives.

According to the Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy there were at least 385 violations against 291 journalists and media agencies during 2020, including assaults, arrests, office closures, and harassing lawsuits.

Foreign and local watchdogs have expressed alarm about the deterioration of press freedom in the Kurdistan Region since Prime Minister Barzani took office in July 2019.

In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a letter to Barzani urging him to “live up” to promises to allow “the free exercise of press freedom” in the Kurdistan Region.

(NRT Digital Media)