At 2.30am today (20 February), approximately 50 armed men raided the privately-owned Nalia Radio & TV (NRT) station in Slêmanî, located in a gated community called ‘German Village.’ The attackers opened fire on the station’s guards, injuring one before entering the three-story building. The gunmen then fired on Nalia’s broadcasting equipment and torched the building, destroying everything inside.
NRT is the Kurdistan region’s first private, independent television station. It opened just three days before the attack. It was the only station to air footage of shots fired at demonstrators on the first day of the protests, according to an NRT statement.
The owner of the station, Shaswar Abdulwahid, says that he had received a number of threats from senior politicians in the city and was asked to stop broadcasting. NRT reported the threats and later he was reassured by many, including the KRG PM, Barham Salih, and PUK deputy secretary-general, Kosrat Rasul, not to worry and to continue broadcasting.
According to Twana Osman, the General Manager of NRT, the ‘attack is not only against NRT. It is a crime against the general public of Kurdistan and their right to know exactly what is happening.’ He added that this is ‘a dangerous attempt to hide the truth, keep the public ignorant and obstruct and intimidate independent media.’
The regionally-based Metro Centre to Defend Journalists said of the attack, “[t]his is a dark day for journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan. We condemn the vicious attack on Nalia TV. It seems the attack had been planned, given that the gunmen fired on all of the station’s broadcasting equipment and then set the building on fire. We call for an independent committee to be formed to investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.’
Hiwa Osman from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting says that the ‘destruction of the station comes at a time when all the other satellite TV channels are unable to provide a balanced coverage’ of the ongoing demonstrations in Slêmanî and other cities.
At least one of the gunmen was wounded, as bloodstains and a trail of blood were left behind at the scene.
Nalia has vowed to resume broadcasting as quickly as possible.