Journalists and Press Freedom organizations criticize the government
Records show 409 cases of censorship since 2009, with 163 cases being from 2011
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.