Monday, 02 July 2012, 07:43 GMT
Press freedoms in need of further development

Journalists in a protest, organized by Metro Center, ask Kurdistan Parliament to activate press law in Kurdistan. /PRESS PHOTO

The Kurdish Globe
By Salih Waladbagi-Erbil

"Parliament should pass the freedom of information bill as soon as possible.

"Violations against journalists have decreased by 89 percent in the first four months of 2012, but there is no guarantee that security forces will not commit more violence."

A group of prominent journalists, judges, police and politicians recently urged authorities to put an end to violations of press freedoms in Kurdistan. Desiring to improve working conditions for journalists in Iraq, the group asked members of parliament to pass laws that would grant journalists right to access information and provide them with more freedoms to carry out their journalistic duties.

Iraqi journalists have faced intimidation and harassment from security forces. The country is still considered one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists.

"Parliament should pass the freedom of information bill as soon as possible. It should be in accordance with the international standards of freedom of information and transparency," said Hoshyar Abdullah, director of KNN television channel which is close to the Gorran opposition movement in Kurdistan.

Journalists almost always criticize governmental apparatuses for not giving them precise information. The current press law authorizes institutions not to facilitate journalists to get information as well.

"Press law and access to information law are the most vital bills that parliament should amend them as soon as they can, improving them in line with standard journalism law."

The KNN's director noted that freedom of press in Kurdistan is "under a question mark."

Many times Kurdish news agencies publish news with unknown sources, increasing the doubt for its credibility among readers.

This will make problem for journalists. Sometimes they might be brought to trial and questioned about the source of the news, according to Abdullah.

"Consequently, journalists should pay the consequent of unknown news sources," he said.

The group asked the judicial authorities to do more in tackling violations on press freedom in Kurdistan.

According to Abdullah, judiciary power is deactivated in Kurdistan, needing to be activated soon in order to play its vital role.

Abdullah said security forces have created dangerous circumstances for journalists.

"They attack journalists especially those from opposition and private channels. They take journalists, cameras, recorders and mobile phones as well as insult them for doing their job," he said.

Even when journalists are brought to trial, they are not tried in accordance with Kurdistan's press law. Abdullah of KNN remarked that he has been summoned to Sulaimaniyah's court for six charges, three of which are not in line with the press law.

He said improving working conditions for journalists and further developing the freedom of press in Iraqi Kurdistan Region is a must, describing every effort to make the circumstances better for journalists as "extremely useful and impressive."

According to figures from the Metro Center, a press freedom organization in Kurdistan, the number of violations against journalists has decreased by 89 percent in the first four months of 2012 compared to the same period last year.

"Different kinds of violations were recorded. They included torturing, intimidation and trials not based on the press law," said Niaz Abdullah, the head of Metro Center in Iraqi Kurdistan's capital city, Erbil.

Metro recorded 359 cases of violations against journalists in 2011. In the first quarter of this year 17 cases were recorded.

According to Abdullah of Metro no one has been brought to accountability so far for violations against journalists.

"There is a reduction in the number of violations but there is no guarantee that security forces will not commit more violence, verbally or physically, against journalists," she added.

She remarked the group called for accountability for those members of police and security forces who commit "inappropriate actions against journalists."

She said it is important to open a special legal representation unit for defending journalists in Kurdistan's courts.

In a suggestion, she asked Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani as the highest legal power to call on government and security forces not to use force against journalists.

Darbaz Salih who is a reporter for Xendan news website recently faced harassment twice by security forces in two different incidents in Erbil.

The first time he faced harassment by security forces was in 2011 when he tried to cover a protest in front of the Kurdistan Islamic Union's headquarters in Erbil.

"Security forces took my camera, mobile phone and recorder. They did not have order from judicial authorities to detain me, but they did,"said Salih.

The second time he faced harassment and intimidation was in an incident in which people gathered in front of Kurdistan Parliament on May 8, 2012. The gathering was because a Kurdish magazine published an article in which the author insulted Islam.

"The second time, security forces beat me. They took all my journalistic tools for nearly two weeks," he said. In the same incident 24 more journalists faced harassment and one of which threatened by gun.

According to Kurdish news agencies several journalists injured that day by both the security forces and people.

Journalists demand Kurdistan's authorities to order members of the security forces to avoid harassing journalists.

Salih, like Abdullah of Metro, is not optimistic that harassment of journalists will soon end.

Significant recommendations were made to legislative, judicial and executive authorities in Kurdistan in order to expand freedoms of expression and press by the group.

The group also called on Kurdistan Region's parliament to take measures to address the violations against journalists and work on a freedom of information law.

Ali Kareem, director of Kurdistan Institute for Human Rights, said improving press freedom needs more efforts. He called on the government and relevant parties to take action toward a more democratic society.