Jour­nal­ists and Press Free­dom or­ga­ni­za­tions crit­i­cize the government

Records show 409 cases of cen­sor­ship since 2009, with 163 cases be­ing from 2011

The Kurdish Globe - - NATIONAL -

Kur­dis­tan Re­gion’s In­tel­li­gence Forces have in­di­cated plans of sign­ing a ‘mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing’ with jour­nal­ists, in an at­tempt to im­prove the re­la­tions as well as in­crease co­op­er­a­tion with jour­nal­ists.

Ac­cord­ing to the Kur­dis­tan Jour­nal­ists Syn­di­cate (KJS), at least one case of cen­sor­ship or vi­o­la­tions of jour­nal­ists’ rights have been recorded across the Kur­dis­tan re­gion ev­ery four days. The fig­ures from the Syn­di­cate show that around 409 cases of vi­o­la­tions have been doc­u­mented since 2009. Vi­o­la­tion varies from in­tim­i­da­tion of jour­nal­ists, seiz­ing jour­nal­is­tic equip­ment such as their cam­eras, notes and recorders. The syn­di­cate’s fig­ure shows that the worst year for jour­nal­ists was 2011, where at least 163 jour­nal­ists faced vi­o­la­tions from se­cu­rity forces.

De­spite the report from the Syn­di­cate, Metro Cen­ter (Press Free­dom Cen­ter) re­jected the claim, and con­cluded that 2012 was the worst year for vi­o­la­tions of jour­nal­ists rights, whereby around 359 jour­nal­ists had their rights vi­o­lated. How­ever, this did not in­clude the killing or phys­i­cal harm to the jour­nal­ists.

Metro and other Press or­ga­ni­za­tions have crit­i­cized the Syn­di­cate’s ef­forts to re­duce cases of ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tions. They have noted that the Syn­di­cate’s mis­sion should not be lim­ited to the an­nounce­ment of statis­tics ev­ery six months. In­stead they ar­gue, the Syn­di­cate should take ac­tion and pres­sur­ize the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government (KRG) to ed­u­cate its staff, and avoid ha­rass­ing jour­nal­ists.

Niaz Ab­dul­lah, Head of Er­bil’s Metro Cen­tre, crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture of the Syn­di­cate and said, "The syn­di­cate's chair­man is a Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party mem­ber and the deputy is a Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan mem­ber. It is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all jour­nal­ists and they have dis­re­garded what role they should be fill­ing be­cause they are act­ing in the in­ter­est of the rul­ing par­ties."

Se­cu­rity forces that in­tim­i­date jour­nal­ists do not re­spect jour­nal­ism as a pro­fes­sional ca­reer, but in­stead be­lieve they are ‘hired to spy on them’ and report their de­fi­cien­cies. An­war Hus­sein, Head of De­fend­ing Jour­nal­ists Board in KJS ex­plained that, “The prob­lem is that the se­cu­rity forces do not con­sider jour­nal­ism as a pro­fes­sional ca­reer”.

Dur­ing demon­stra­tions or ‘spe­cial oc­ca­sions’ se­cu­rity forces beat jour­nal­ists, and seize their jour­nal­is­tic tools in or­der to send a mes­sage to other jour­nal­ists, in an at­tempt to de­ter jour­nal­ists from re­port­ing on the sen­si­tive is­sues re­lated to their in­sti­tu­tion or some high­rank­ing po­lit­i­cal fig­ures.

A pro­vi­sion in the Kur­dis­tan Jour­nal­ists Law de­ter­mines penal­ties for those who ha­rass jour­nal­ists, with no re­gard given to the jour­nal­ist’s po­lit­i­cal af­filia- tion; this law has not been ap­plied to se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence forces.

Ac­cord­ing to Hus­sein, the KRG has never ques­tioned the se­cu­rity forces mem­bers that threaten jour­nal­ists. “If se­cu­rity forces want to im­prove their re­la­tions with jour­nal­ists and writ­ers they should stop ar­rest­ing, beat­ing, threat­en­ing and in­sult­ing jour­nal­ists.”

Re­porters With­out Bor­ders (RWB) con­tin­ues to be con­cerned for jour­nal­ists in Iraq gen­er­ally, in­clud­ing Kur­dis­tan, where there have been waves of at­tacks and acts of in­tim­i­da­tion against me­dia per­son­nel over the past few years.

The RWB has asked the Iraqi and Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to put an end to the abuses against me­dia per­son­nel. It has urged them to guar­an­tee the safety of jour­nal­ists un­der the law for the pro- tec­tion of jour­nal­ists that was adopted on Au­gust 2010.

Hus­sein ex­plains that se­cu­rity forces and Jour­nal­ists have lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence in work­ing to­gether pro­fes­sion­ally. In the be­gin­ning of 2000, there was only one type of me­dia out­let, which was run by the two dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal par­ties – Kur­dis­tan Demo­cratic Party and Pa­tri­otic Union of Kur­dis­tan. With the fall of Sad­dam Hus­sein new me­dia agen­cies blos­somed. Since then, an op­po­si­tion af­fil­i­ated me­dia out­let has started and many on­line news-sites.

Ac­cord­ing to Hus­sein, Se­cu­rity Forces have the re­spon­si­bil­ity of guar­an­tee­ing the safety of jour­nal­ists, and they have failed in their mis­sion. He went on to say, “Jour­nal­ists with dif­fer­ing views could po­ten­tially face in­tim­i­da­tion, threats and even dif­fi­cul­ties in re­port­ing be­cause of Se­cu­rity Forces”.

Both the KRG and Kur­dis­tan Par­lia­ment vi­o­late the Jour­nal­ism Law num­ber 35 of 2007, which was rat­i­fied to pro­tect jour­nal­ists.

The most sig­nif­i­cant step to ac­cel­er­ate the rate of de­creas­ing in­tim­i­da­tion against jour­nal­ists is to open spe­cial cour­ses to train se­cu­rity forces on how to deal with jour­nal­ists dur­ing demon­stra­tions and other events where they face in­tim­i­da­tion.

Se­cu­rity forces have pointed out that some jour­nal­ists’ are not neu­tral when it comes to re­port­ing, and are of­ten sym­pa­thetic to­wards the causes they cover, whether in a demon­stra­tion or oth­er­wise. Ac­cord­ing to Jour­nal­ism laws jour­nal­ists are not per­mit­ted to par­take in a demon­stra­tions while cov- er­ing them.

Sa­man Fawzi, spe­cial­ist on Jour­nal­ism Law be­lieves the Kur­dis­tan re­gion’s laws per­tain­ing to jour­nal­ism is far more ad­vanced than those of Iraq, and some neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. How­ever, he pointed out that “It is not more ad­vanced than jour­nal­ism laws that ex­ist in the devel­oped coun­tries”.

Kur­dis­tan Jour­nal­ism Law num­ber 35 was passed in 2007, which in­cludes 14 pro­vi­sions. One of the most sig­nif­i­cant points that jour­nal­ists stress on is ac­cess to the in­for­ma­tion bill, which is now in Par­lia­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the bill, ev­ery cit­i­zen has the right to get in­for­ma­tion from pub­lic and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions. Be­sides, they [peo­ple] can take a copy of the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments.

Three jour­nal­ists take pho­to­graph from an aged woman who sits in­side her house.

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