Tuesday, 10 July 2012, 07:46 GMT
U.S. diplomat condemns intimidation of journalists

Encounters between security forces and a journalist, Rahman Gharib, during a demonstration in Sulaimaniyah. /PRESS PHOTO

The Kurdish Globe
By Salih Waladbagi

Journalists are the number-one-victims of press violations in Kurdistan

The head of Erbil U.S. Diplomat General Department and press freedom organizations condemned security force attacks on journalists in Erbil. They urged the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and parliament to put an end to violence against journalists and to uphold press freedoms.

Mathew Vitris, Head of Diplomat General of U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, condemned violation against journalists by security forces in a press conference.

He said there is no place for such violations in a democratic society and described it as a "crime". He urged the KRG to investigate the cases of violations against journalists that happened in front of Erbil's West Emergency Hospital on July 1st 2012.

According to statistics from press freedom organizations, some 12 journalists from six different media outlets faced intimidation and several others were injured.

Vitris said that he met the journalists who faced intimidation and discussed the situation with them. Then he joined with Kurdistan parliament members to give them their notices.

Kurdistan Ministry of Interior on 2nd of July formed an investigative committee to look into the incident.

"We in Kurdistan Regional Ministry of Interior should protect rule of law and have special respect to Kurdistan Journalism Syndicate and all of journalists. In addition, Presidency of Council of Ministers" attitude is always respecting journalists in general. It is our mission to protect achievements of the society and respect rights and democratic freedoms of any certain party in the region. We formed an investigative committee to inspect about the incident happened in front of Erbil's West Emergency Hospital. We ensure our people that wrongdoers will be fined," the ministry announcement read.

A day after the incident, the Kurdistan Journalism Syndicate, Metro Center, a press freedom organization, and several other civil society institutions condemned the incident.

Rahman Gharib, Metro center's director, told the Kurdish Globe that they are waiting to see what the consequence of the ministry's committee will be.

"We ask Minister of Interior to fine the members of security forces who attacked the journalists. He should publish the result of punishment of his forces in public in order to be a lesson for others not to repeat such kind of attacks on journalists," he said.

Security forces and Peshmarga undertake most of violations against journalists in the three provinces of Kurdistan, according to Metro.

He furthermore said that both groups are the major bodies responsible for restricting press freedom.

"The ministries should educate their forces and have to take action if their forces attack journalists and fine them for their doings."

In an announcement, Metro asked public prosecutors and the two ministries not to keep silent in such situations.

The announcement also read: "Once again security forces of the government proved that the KRG official apparatuses are not obedient to press law. Journalists are the number one victims in most demonstrations and strikes."

Gharib in an exclusive interview told the Globe that the nature of the center's activity in the second half of the year will change from recording violation cases to taking to the streets peacefully to show their protest if such kind of attacks are repeated.

The beaten journalists recorded complaints on the security forces of the hospital in Shadi Police Station. Alwand Hamid reporter for Speda T.V. station close to the Kurdistan Islamic Union, told Kurdish news agencies that the investigative judge issued an order to arrest all the accused security forces who attacked the journalists. The victims asked relevant parties to make the investigative process easier and not to keep silent.

Reporters of Gali Kurdistan and Kurdsat, close to Iraqi President Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Payam, close to the Kurdistan Islamic Group, Kurdish News Network, close to Gorran movement and NRT TV station, a private TV station and Speda faced attack.

Hawkar Hassan who is a Payam reporter said that Payam's reporter's team faced intimidation. He remarked the forces wanted to keep them away from the place and insulted them verbally.

"More than 10 to 15 security forces attacked us later," he said.

He moreover stated that the forces "beat me" and injured the cameraman of the team and took his camera. The team was later taken to the hospital for treatment.

"Rule of law and rule of gun" was the title of a short article posted by Ali Kareem, director of Kurdistan Institute for Human Rights, in his facebook page.

"I will be confident when rule of law passes borders of written pages, speeches of press conferences plus armed forces, with different titles, keep obeying laws in Kurdistan. For instance, they should neither attack journalists nor protesters; instead they have to prove that they act upon laws. If not, rule of gun will seek to hunt rule of law as an inanimate slogan," reads the article.

Haryad Kareem, reporter for Gali Kurdistan, was hit in the neck with a piece of iron. "Almost 15 security forces attacked me and one of them turned round my neck very cruelly then beat me in the neck with a piece of iron," he said.

Two NRT's reporters also faced intimidation and violence. Barzan Hassan of NRT said they prevented us from covering the incident. "The security forces told us that they received order from higher officials not to let journalists cover it," he said.

"We told security forces that we have the right to cover the incident according to Kurdistan's press law. But they refused our request and shouted on us."

Zar organization which is a press freedom organisation announced that the most recent intimidation of journalists by security forces proved that it has become part of power psychology. "This shows that political leadership would not like to admit journalists, rights," the Zar announcement reads.

Civil Development Organization (CDO) supports efforts from both Metro Center and Journalism Syndicate to put an end to violation against journalists.

"We do hope that incidents like that of July 1st won't be repeated again in future. We look forward not to seeing security forces try to beat, insult and intimidate journalists," CDO announced.