Attacks on media in Iraqi Kurdistan has dramatically increased
On February 20, masked gunmen attacked and burned the first and only independent TV channel, Nalia Radio and Television – NRT – in the Kurdistan region for its live coverage of the demonstrations in Sulaimaniyah, which is still continuing today and is against corruption and lack of better social services. Upon announcement to re-setup the station, the station started to receive regular threats, said Twana Othman, general manager of the TV channel (1). The authorities said they will investigate the incident.
On a separate occasion, another independent radio station, Dank Radio, was attacked by gunmen and destroyed most of their equipment and stole the others. This happened a day ago, March 6th. Security officials said they were investigating (2).
Kurdistan region, relative to its region, has certain degree of democracy and freedom of speech and press. Media have certain degree of freedom it can cover without being harassed by the authorities; the freedom that is lacking, for instance, in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq under former dictator Saddam Hussein. Though most media outlets such as the tens of magazines and newspaper, TV stations, radio stations, are owned and controlled by the political parties, mostly by KDP and PUK, there exist few media outlets that are independent. In the recent times, however, the situation is seemed to take a different direction.
Journalists have also been assaulted. Although assault on journalists is not a new phenomenon in the Kurdistan region, it has increased lately. Regarding freedom of press, Kurdish writer Aso Jabar said: “The Kurdish authorities are showing their darkest side through these acts of repression. Real democracies do not oppress their people for using the right to free speech (3).” In February alone, over 48 separate incidents regarding journalists have occurred, as documented by Reporters Without Borders (4). Some of these incidents included:
– Beatings, such as the cases of Allan Sahebqrran (Newspaper Hawlati), Kawa Garmiyani (Newspaper Awene), Bryar Namiq (TV KNN), Ara Ibrahim (Newspaper Hawlati), among many others.
– Dead threats
– Prevention from covering incidents
With these assaults on journalists and violating their freedom of press, and with these two TV and radio stations being attacked, destroyed, burned, and still the culprits not being behind the bars, it is only driving the “Other Iraq” into the “Same Iraq.” The line is becoming thinner between the freedom of press in the Kurdistan region and between its neighbors. An attack today on the independent media, or any media, is only an attack on all media and voices tomorrow, thus paving the way for autocracy. The authorities must speed up their investigations and bring the culprits in front of justice or else less and less their legitimacy of government will become; because if a government is unable to protect its citizens and its functions, it indeed becomes illegitimate because the sole purpose of any government is to protect and insure the safety of its citizens.