Kurdish issues in the latest HRW World Report

hrw2013reportThis year’s Human Rights Watch World Report details events around the world from 2012. The report assessed progress on human rights during the 2012 year in more than 90 countries.

Kurdistan Commentary has selected issues relating to the Kurds from this massive 665-page report and posted them below. Turkey continues to garner to bulk of the Kurdish-related news in the HRW report, as it has in years past. In the Syria section there is no mention of the Kurds at all. That chapter is focused on abuses taking place in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with no reference to Kurdish regions. The Iran chapter contains minimal information and the Kurdistan section of the Iraq chapter focuses, as in previous HRW World Reports, on freedom of expression and female genital mutilation.

Excerpts below.

Turkey

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown, and a strong focus on developing a leading regional role, but failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continued to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remained restricted, and there were ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.

Cross-party parliamentary work on a new constitution to uphold the rule of law and fundamental rights continued, although it was unclear at this writing whether the government and opposition would reach a consensus on key issues such as minority rights, fundamental freedoms, and definition of citizenship.

In March, parliament passed legislation to establish a National Human Rights Institution, and in June, an ombudsman institution to examine complaints against public officials at every level. Human rights groups criticized government control of appointments to the national institution’s board and its failure to meet the test of independence from the government that United Nations guidelines recommend.

With the AKP condoning the mass incarceration of Kurdish activists, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) escalating attacks, 2012 saw a spiraling descent into violence with armed clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths of soldiers and PKK members, significantly higher than recent years. Throughout 2012, the PKK kidnapped security personnel and civilians, including local politicians, one parliamentarian, and teachers, releasing them periodically. A suspected PKK attack in Gaziantep in August left nine civilians dead, including four children. The non-resolution of the Kurdish issue remained the single greatest obstacle to progress on human rights in Turkey.

Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly

While there is open debate in Turkey, government policies, laws and the administration of justice continue to lag behind international standards. The government has yet to carry out a comprehensive review of all existing laws that restrict freedom of expression, although a draft reform package was expected in late 2012 at this writing.

The so-called third judicial reform package came into force in July 2012. It ends short-term bans of newspapers and journals, which the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has criticized as censorship. The law suspends investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of speech-related offenses carrying a maximum sentence of five years that were committed before December 31, 2011, provided the offense is not repeated within three years. Critics fear the threat of reinstatement will continue to muzzle debate.

Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials. Most of those in prison are Kurdish activists and officials of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) standing trial for alleged links to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), a body connected with the PKK, and in general the ongoing clampdown on the BDP and Kurdish political activism intensified in 2012 with repeated waves of mass arrests and prolonged imprisonment. The trial of 44 Journalists and media workers (31 in detention) began in Istanbul in September. They are among the many journalists, students, lawyers, trade unionists, and human rights defenders imprisoned and prosecuted for association with the KCK.

There was little progress in the main Diyarbakır KCK trial of 175 defendants. The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians.

The July reform package also introduced and encouraged alternatives to remand imprisonment pending trial. But there were no indications that courts apply this to those already held in prolonged prison detention under terrorism charges. Statistics from the Ministry of Justice from May, the most recent data available, indicated that 8,995 of the 125,000-strong prison population were charged with terrorism offenses, and that half of the 8,995 were awaiting an initial verdict.

Combating Impunity

Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military, and state officials.

In December 2011, a Turkish airforce aerial bombardment killed 34 Kurdish villagers, many of them young people and children, near Uludere, close to the Iraqi-Kurdistan border, as they crossed back into Turkey with smuggled goods. Concerns that there had been an official cover-up were fuelled by repeated statements by the prime minister rejecting calls by media, opposition parties, and families of victims for a full explanation of the incident, lack of a public inquiry, and a protracted criminal investigation that had not concluded at this writing.

Key International Actors

Turkey’s European Union accession negotiations remained stalled. The election of France’s President François Hollande helped to improve French-Turkish relations. In October, the European Commission in its annual progress report voiced strong criticism in most areas relating to human rights, emphasizing the importance of work on a new constitution, and stressing “the Kurdish issue remains a key challenge for Turkey’s democracy.”

The United States government remains an important influence on Turkey, sharing military intelligence on PKK movements in northern Iraq.

In January, a groundbreaking report by the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights focused on “long-term, systemic problems in the administration of justice,” and its negative impact on human rights.

In its October review of Turkey, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended reforms including amending the National Human Rights Institution law, introducing comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and addressing the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.

Iran

Death Penalty

In 2011 authorities carried out more than 600 executions, second only to China, according to Amnesty International. Crimes punishable by death include murder, rape, trafficking and possessing drugs, armed robbery, espionage, sodomy, adultery, and apostasy.

Authorities have executed at least 30 people since January 2010 on the charge of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) or “sowing corruption on earth” for their alleged ties to armed groups. As of September 2012, at least 28 Kurdish prisoners were awaiting execution on national security charges, including moharebeh.

Treatment of Minorities

The government restricted cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab, and Baluch minorities.

Iraq

In April, Iraq’s parliament passed a law criminalizing human trafficking, but has yet to effectively implement it. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has not taken steps to implement a 2011 law banning female genital mutilation (FGM).

Freedom of Assembly

Security forces continued to respond to peaceful protests with intimidation, threats, violence, and arrests of protesters. On February 17, hundreds of security forces of the KRG surrounded a peaceful demonstration in Sulaimaniya’s Sara Square. Dozens of men in civilian clothing attacked protesters and made many arrests.

Freedom of Expression

The environment for journalists remained oppressive in 2012. The Iraqi parliament was at this writing considering a number of laws restricting the media and freedom of expression and assembly, including the draft Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, and a draft law regulating the organization of political parties that punishes expression “violating public morals” and conveying “immoral messages.” In September, the Federal Supreme Court denied a petition by a local press freedom organization to repeal the Journalists Protection Law on the basis that it fails to offer meaningful protection to journalists and restricts access to information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Iraq at the top of its 2012 Impunity Index, which focuses on unsolved journalist murders, and reported that there have been no convictions for murders of journalists since 2003. Iraqi authorities made no arrests for the murder of Hadi al-Mahdi, a journalist critical of the government, killed in September 2011. Another journalist, Zardasht Osman, was abducted and murdered after publishing a satirical article about KRG president Massoud Barzani in 2010. The KRG never released details of the investigation into his death.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

In June 2011, the KRG parliament passed the Family Violence Bill, which includes provisions criminalizing forced and child marriages; abuse of girls and women; and a total ban on FGM. Implementation of the law is poor, and dozens of girls and practitioners said that they had either undergone or performed FGM since the law was passed. The authorities took no measures to investigate these cases.

To see the entire 665-page report, go to the World Report 2013 page on the HRW website.

One year anniversary of #TwitterKurds

It’s coming up later this month. The one year anniversary of #TwitterKurds!! Never heard of it? It’s a campaign on Twitter to raise awareness of Kurdish issues. It’s for anyone who wants to give voice to the Kurdish struggle for freedom of expression, freedom to be Kurdish, and freedom to speak Kurdish. It is a movement to raise awareness of human rights abuses perpetrated against the Kurdish peoples of the Middle East. It is a powerful social media tool to overcome media bias and spread the truth. #TwitterKurds has even been mentioned on Al Jazeera’s The Stream. It is a force to be reckoned with!

The power behind #TwitterKurds comes from the hundreds of dedicated global voices sending out 140-character messages hour after hour, day after day, gathering followers, users, believers; changing minds, changing hearts. When #TwitterKurds knocks on your social media door you might ask, ‘Who’s there?’ and #TwitterKurds responds, ‘The truth.’

In honour of #TwitterKurds‘ first anniversary, there will be a mass tweet campaign to raise global awareness of the issues in all parts of Kurdistan. Join us on 25th May from 10 to 10GMT.

Want to learn more? Go to Twitter. Follow #TwitterKurds for more information. You can also join the #TwitterKurds FB page!

Conference: On the Way to a New Constitution

Click for full-size conference poster

The organisers of this conference have asked us to announce this on Kurdistan Commentary. The overview and programme are below. The programme concept (in .pdf format) can be downloaded here (Turkish & English). The conference will be livestreamed at this site: http://www.anayasayolunda.com. Looks as though there will be lots of room for discussion about the Kurds given the topic of the conference and the line-up of speakers.

Conference Overview:

The events of the Arab Spring brought tremendous change for all Arab countries. Old dictatorships had collapsed, governments had to introduce reforms; the whole process is still ongoing and the results of the events are yet to be seen. In many countries a process of replacing or at least reforming the constitution started. Different models of participation of society and various forms of demands from the people are to be observed.

This conference wants to bring together the various experiences from around the region with a comparative civic/human rights perspective. It intends to focus on the question as to what does it meanto be “free” after the revolution, and try to understand the current dynamics that shape the very basis of a social contract in respective countries? This is an important task, given that for the first time since the modern state building experiences, people of the region now have the chance to develop a common vision on issues pertaining to democratic citizenship, based on their will and internal dynamics in a mutually learning environment. As such, the conference will be dealing with issues and problems of the following sort and similar others:

Programme:

On the Way to a New Constitution:
Middle East, North Africa and Turkey
28th April 2012, Istanbul
Point Hotel Taksim

09:30 Registration
10:00 Opening Remarks
FES Turkey & Helsinki Citizens Assembly

10:15 1st Panel : Regional Caucus on Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey
– Iran:
Abbas Vali, Boğaziçi University
– Syria:
Christian Sinclair, University of Arizona
– Kurdistan Regional Government:
Rebwar Kerim Wali, Rudaw
– Turkey:
Cengiz Çandar, Radikal Daily

Moderation: Nigâr Hacızade

12:00 Coffee Break

12:15 Discussion

13:30 Lunch

15:00 2nd Panel: Regional Caucus on Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey
– Egypt:
Amr Shalakany, American University of Cairo
– Tunisia:
Choukri Hmed, Université Paris-Dauphine
– Algeria:
Omar Benderra, International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions
– Turkey:
Ayhan Bilgen, Democratic Constitution Movement

Moderation: Işın Eliçin

16:45 Coffee Break

17:00 Discussion

18:15 Concluding remarks: Herta Däubler-Gmelin, Former Minister of Justice, Germany

English-Turkish simultaneous translation will be provided during the conference.

SPEAKERS:

Abbas Vali
Vali obtained a BA in Political Science from the National University of Iran in 1973. He then moved to the UK to continue his graduate studies in modern political and social theory. He obtained an MA in Politics from the University of Keele in 1976. He then received his PhD in Sociology from the University of London in 1983. This was followed by a post-doctoral research fellowship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in 1984. Abbas Vali began his academic carrier in 1986 in the Department of Political Theory and Government at the University of Wales, Swansea. He was invited by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to establish and lead a new university in Erbil in 2005. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kurdistan before he was removed for disagreements with the KRG over the management of the university in May 2008. Professor Vali has since been teaching Modern Social and Political Theory in the Department of Sociology at Bogazici University in Istanbul.

Rebwar Kerim Wali
Rebwar Kerim Wali started to work as a journalist in 1995, and is currently the editor-in-chief of the Rudaw Newspaper which is being published in Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe. Furthermore he is also the chief editor of the newly formed Rudaw TV. Rebwar Kerim Wali worked as a journalist during the civil war that erupted due to the dispute between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Partriotic Union. Before he was imprisoned in 2002 because of his articles, he continued to work as a domestic journalist. In 2003 he started to work as a correspondent and representative for foreign press agencies such as BBC Turkish, RFI Farsi, Independent Europe Radio. In 2004 he established the Peyamner News Agency, the first independent news agency in Kurdistan. He is also the founder of Zagros TV where he functioned as the chief editor for 1,5 years. Furthermore, Wali is the founder of the following newspapers: Hewler Post, Bevada, Rudaw. Hewler Post was also the first newspaper to be published online in Turkish. His mother tongue being Kurdish, Wali also fluently speaks Persian, Arabic and Turkish. He also has intermediate knowledge in English.

Christian Sinclair
Christian Sinclair is deputy director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and director of the university’s program in Jordan. He is also a member of the executive committee of the US-based Kurdish Studies Association. Sinclair teaches “Democratization and Human Rights in the Middle East” at UA and “Ethnography of the Middle East” in Jordan. He has given more than a dozen talks in the past couple years in the US and Europe, mainly on the human rights situation of the Kurds, with particular focus on media, language, and politics. His most reason article, published in MERIP, is “The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria.” Sinclair lived in Syria for seven years in the 1990s and has returned regularly since then.

Amr Shalakany
Amr Shalakany has served as associate professor of law in American University of Cairo since 2004. He served for four years as LL.M. Program Director since the Law Departments establishment in 2005. He also holds a joint appointment as Assistant Professor of Civil Law at Cairo University Faculty of Law. Before joining AUC, Shalakany was the Jeremiah Smith Junior Visiting Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School, where he taught Comparative Law and Islamic Law. Earlier, he served as legal advisor to the PLO Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah during the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, and also taught at Birzeit University and helped set up the Law Clinic at the Law Institute. His recent projects include completing his Carnegie Scholar book manuscript tentatively entitled “The Redefinition of Shari’a in Modern Egyptian Legal Thought: 1798 — Present;” co-editing with Prof Khaled Fahmy the collected papers from “New Approaches to Modern Egyptian Legal History,” a symposium held in June 2009; and “A Short History of the Modern Egyptian Legal Elite” (forthcoming in Boutiveau & Maugiron eds., Egypt and Its Laws (2011).

Choukri Hmed
Choukri Hmed is an Associate Professor in Political Science at the Paris-Dauphine University since September 2007. He is also Visiting Associate Professor at Bing Overseas Stanford Program in History and International Relations (Centre of Paris). He is currently director of the Master, Social and Political Researches, at the Paris-Dauphine University, and associated researcher at the Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales (IRISSO, UMR CNRS 7170). Since 2011 he carries out a fieldwork research on the revolutionary process and contentious politics in Tunisia. Among his publications are: Choukri Hmed, 2011, “Apprendre à devenir révolutionnaire en Tunisie”, Les Temps modernes, 664; Choukri Hmed et al., eds, 2011, “Observer les mobilisations”, Politix. Revue des sciences sociales du politique, 93.

Omar Benderra
Omar Benderra, born in Algiers (Algeria), now living in Paris (France), has studied economy and finance in Algiers. He is the former chairman of an Algerian state-owned bank for the period 1989-1991. Since then, he’s been working as a consultant and journalist. Omar Benderra is member to the International Committee of Solidarity with the Algerian free Trade-Unions (CISA) –Paris, director of the Frantz Fanon Foundation, and a fellow of the Centre for North African Studies in Cambridge University.

Cengiz Çandar
Cengiz Çandar is a journalist and former war correspondent from Turkey. He began his career as a journalist in 1976 in the newspaper Vatan after living some years in the Middle East and in Europe due to his opposition to the regime in Turkey following the military intervention in 1971. As an expert on the Middle East (Lebanon and Palestine) and the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Çandar worked for the Turkish News Agency and for the leading Turkish newspapers Cumhuriyet, Hürriyet, Referans and Güneş. Currently, he is a columnist at Radikal Daily. Çandar served as special adviser to Turkish president Turgut Özal between 1991 and 1993. Between 1999 and 2000, he conducted research on “Turkey in the 21st Century” as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and as a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.

Ayhan Bilgen
Ayhan Bilgen is a journalist and Kurdish human rights activist. He studies Public Management at Ankara University and functioned as the Head of the Ankara Office of MAZLUMDER and was a member of the board of directors in the very same association. In May 2006 at the 7th General Assembly he was elected to become the president of the association for two years. Furthermore, Bilgen works as a columnist for the Ülkede Özgür Gündem newapaper. In the general election on 22 July 2007 he ran as an independent MP candidate from Konya as part of the Bin Umut Adayları (a campaign backed by mainly Kurdish independent MP candidates in response to the 10% threshold). He has recently been working on issues relating to the writing of a democratic and encompassing new constitution.

Kurdistan Commentary announces two new authors

Shiler Amini and Christian Sinclair will be joining Kurdistan Commentary as regular authors.

Shiler Amini

Shiler Amini is a PhD candidate in Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter. She is a news journalist with a background in sociology, with interests concentrated around Kurdish politics, media, women’s rights, linguistics and the Kurdish diaspora. Amini currently writes editorials for online journals such as Rojhelat: The Kurdish Observer and Kurd.se | Den Kurdiska Rösten and will now be doing the same for Kurdistan Commentary.

Christian Sinclair

Christian Sinclair, who has posted with Kurdistan Commentary before, is assistant director of University of Arizona’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies. He is also on the Kurdish Studies Association’s executive committee. Sinclair’s interests — as they relate to Kurdish Studies — include human rights, politics, media, and language and he is a frequent speaker on Kurdish issues. His article, The Evolution of Kurdish Politics in Syria, was published by MERIP last August. He will write a fortnightly column, which will appear Mondays beginning on 7th May.

Kurdistan Commentary is very excited to have these two join the team. Their expertise in the region and exceptional writing skills will afford Kurdistan Commentary’s readers new insights into the field of Kurdish Studies.

Kurdistan Commentary welcomes other authors/bloggers to share their stories. If you are interested in joining the Kurdistan Commentary team, send an email to us at kurdistancommentary@googlemail.com. There is no editorial oversight for authors with a proven track record. Authors will be given an author account and post directly to Kurdistan Commentary.

Press freedom takes another hit in Turkey as Özgür Gündem is shuttered for one month

Özgür Gündem, the pro-Kurdish daily, was suspended again after a court decided on Saturday that the paper was ‘spreading terrorist propaganda.’ Police then raided the printing press where Özgür Gündem is published and confiscated Sunday’s edition of the newspaper. The newspaper will be closed for a month because the court ruling says that news, photographs, and commentaries published on pages 1, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the 25th March edition were making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. See those pages via the online edition of yesterday’s paper here.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem, said the court cited the newspaper’s reporting of Newroz celebration from the Qandil mountains as one example of spreading terrorist propaganda. Supporters of press freedom gathered yesterday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to protest the decision to close the daily.

Huseyin Aykol, editor of Özgür Gündem

Last November and December, police raided Özgür Gündem offices, detained several of the newspaper’s journalists and carted away computers as part of a crackdown on Kurdish media outlets. At present, 11 Özgür Gündem journalists are behind bars due to their alleged links to the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).

Özgür Gündem, which prints in Turkish to raise awareness of the Kurdish issue, was first published in 1992 but was banned two years later and only began publishing again on 04 April 2011. During that time employees, including reporters, were attacked and even murdered to silence the newspaper. After its closure in April 1994 it re-opened under the name of Özgür Ülke. Eight months later, in December 1994, three offices of Özgür Ülke were bombed, which resulted in the death of one of its employees in addition to 21 wounded.

Because of the gross abuses against the newspaper, a case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey. The case originated in an application (no. 23144/93) against the Republic of Turkey lodged with the Commission under former Article 25 by then editor-in-chief (Gurbetelli Ersöz), assistant editor-in-chief (Fahri Ferda Çetin) and two owners of the newspaper Özgür Gündem. The newspaper was closed after being subjected to a series of attacks and harassment which the applicants claimed were the direct or indirect responsibility of Turkish authorities.

The basic premise of the case, as described in the brief, was as follows:

Özgür Gündem was a daily newspaper the main office of which was situated in Istanbul. It was a Turkish language publication with an estimated national circulation of up to 45,000 copies and a further unspecified international circulation. It incorporated its predecessor, the weekly publication Yeni Ülke, which was produced between 1990 and 1992. Özgür Gündem was published from 30 May 1992 until April 1994. It was succeeded by another newspaper, Özgür Ülke.

The case concerns the allegations of the applicants that Özgür Gündem was the subject of serious attacks and harassment which forced its eventual closure and for which the Turkish authorities are directly or indirectly responsible.

The court document then describes the details of circumstances in which several persons connected with the paper were killed; newsagents were attacked, arson attacks were perpetrated against news-stands and newsagents, and bombs exploded at the newspaper’s offices and a news-agency.

On 16 March 2000, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously against Turkey that this was violation of freedom of expression (Article 10) and must pay compensation.

The evidence showed that there were numerous incidents of violence involving the newspaper, journalists, distributors and other persons associated with it. The concerns of the paper were brought to the attention of the authorities; no measures were taken to investigate the situation, and no protective measures were taken save in two incidents.

In one instance, the Court noted the provocative nature of some of the articles which spoke of Kurdistan, implying that it was or should be a separate territory. However, said the court, the public enjoys the right to be informed of different perspectives on the situation in Southeastern Turkey no matter how unpalatable to the authorities.

A film has been made about that time period and the struggles of the newspaper. Press (Sedat Yılmaz, 2010) presents its problematic through the daily struggles of the Özgür Gündem reporters in Diyarbakır for acquiring news and delivering them to the readers. They are after the news that were ignored and concealed by the “holding newspapers”, which are mainly about the illegal operations of the military and paramilitary forces and the deep state. The Diyarbakır team consists of a small team of correspondents, who are threatened and murdered one by one. They play cat and mouse in the narrow streets of Diyarbakır and in the bus terminals of the neighbouring towns. The distribution of the paper in the region is not allowed. Besides, the kiosks are threatened to be burnt. Read more here.

Film clip from Press:

sources:

Toksabay, Ece. Turkish court bans pro-Kurdish daily for month-editor. Reuters, 25 March 2012

The daily Özgür Gündem closed for a month. GIT- North America, 25 March 2012

Ozgur Gundem v Turkey. Article 19, 16 March 2000

Rojnameya Ozgur Gundemê ji bo mehekê hat girtin. Azadiya Welat, 25 March 2012

And the 2012 Der Steiger award goes to…

Protesters in Bochum, 17 March 2012

Well, not Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan. Close to 30,000 protesters flooded the streets of Bochum yesterday in a pre-planned rally to criticise the decision to honour the Turkish Prime Minister with this year’s Der Steiger award. Protesters were local Alevi, Kurdish and Armenians, who oppose the ruling AK Party’s policies in Turkey. Der Steiger is awarded in various categories and Erdoğan was to have received it for humanity and tolerance.

One leading German conservative had criticised the decision to award a prize for tolerance to Erdoğan, citing what he called a lack of press freedom and the ‘suppressing’ of religious and ethnic minorities in Turkey. Alexander Dobrindt, general secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition government, said it would be more appropriate to award Erdoğan a prize for intolerance.

One news source said organisers of the German prize decided against honouring Erdoğan in light of the protests and criticism. However, the official Der Steiger website only says that Erdoğan cancelled the trip to Germany due to the deaths of Turkish soldiers in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Award organisers, according to the German news agency DPA, said they changed their mind because Erdoğan was not travelling to the award ceremony in Germany.

Tilman Zülch, President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International sent an open letter several days ago to the Mayor of Bochum in which he urged Mayor Scholz to reconsider this decision. He wrote:

To accord Erdoğan this honor although he is responsible for massive human rights violations in Turkey is not only a slap in the face for the victims of arbitrary imprisonment and torture in Turkey, it also tarnishes the reputation of this award.

There has been a steady wave of arrests in Turkey since 2009, primarily targeting Kurdish journalists, politicians, human rights activists and opposition members. There are currently 103 journalists, 13 members and leaders of the Turkish human rights organization IHD, 52 leaders of the KESK trade union, and thousands of members of the democratic Kurdish party, BDP, awaiting trial. In spite of the complete lack of evidence, they are accused either of belonging to the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) or of denigrating the Turkish people.

The anti-terror law provides the Turkish government with a foundation for massive restrictions on freedom of the press. Pro-Kurdish statements made in public, including those made at peaceful demonstrations organized by the opposition party, are frequently the entire basis for arrests.

In recent days it has also come to light that from 2006 to 2010, more than 4000 Kurdish youths were sentenced. These twelve- to seventeen-year-olds were accused of expressing pro-Kurdish sentiments or throwing stones at a demonstration. The children who have been released describe torture and abuses. Thousands of children and youths, however, are still being held as “terrorists” in Turkish prisons. They are often without protection of any kind, at the mercy of judicial authorities and adult fellow prisoners. The authorities have been aware of this situation since 2011, but have done nothing.

In spite of Erdoğan’s announced intention to continue emphatically advocating for equal rights and for the protection of everyone living in Turkey regardless of ethnicity, Muslim and Yazidi Kurds as well as Christian Assyro-Aramaeans still suffer direct and indirect discrimination, persecution and violence.

The Steiger Award should be an acknowledgment of extraordinary service and dedication. It sends a signal, and confers recognition. A government leader who uses an anti-terror law to legitimize grave human rights abuses should not be encouraged to continue running roughshod over the basic rights of citizens in the country he governs.

SERIOUSLY, FACEBOOK?!?!?

A former Facebook employee who used to filter out offensive content has leaked the website’s secret rulebook. Aggrieved Moroccan worker, Amine Derkaoui, 21, who was paid a mere $1 an hour by oDesk – a third-party content-moderation firm used by Facebook – let the cat out of the bag when he revealed FB’s nasty secrets. See story here.

In addition to banning images of butt cracks, people sleeping with things drawn on their faces, decapitated humans, and earwax (huh?), Facebook includes as graphic content: maps of Kurdistan. Yes, maps of Kurdistan. See image below (3rd column towards the bottom–click to enlarge).

Seriously, Facebook? This is truly disgusting.

2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award: call for nominations

NOMINATE AZADIYA WELAT FOR THE 2012 IPI FREE MEDIA PIONEER AWARD!

The International Press Institute (IPI) is looking for nominations for the 2012 Free Media Pioneer Award. Since 1996, IPI has recognized the work of one media organisation each year that has improved press freedom and media independence in its home country or region.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie says that her organisation believes ‘in the power of journalists helping journalists, and media helping media. With the IPI Free Media Pioneer Award, we want to put a spotlight on those media organizations that are pushing press freedom forward in their countries through their sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk.’

Sustained efforts, professionalism and boldness, and often in the face of great risk. Often in the face of great risk. One organisation, I believe, truly stands out in its relentless pursuit of the right to freedom of speech. That is Turkey’s sole Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat.

The newspaper Azadiya Welat has been suspended multiple times by the Turkish justice system, its staff routinely harassed and imprisoned, the newspapers confiscated.

Three editors-in-chief have been sentenced to a total of 325 years in prison amongst them: Vedat Kurşun, Ruken Ergün and Ozan Kılınç. Thirteen journalists/ correspondents from Azadiya Welat are in prison. Aziz Tekin became number thirteen less than a week ago.

Writing about Kurdish issues from a Kurdish perspective in Kurdish remains taboo and is used as a pretext for legal proceedings against too many media outlets and journalists in Turkey. Journalists and editors alike are charged using Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws in an effort to silence the Kurdish minority.

Please join me in nominating Azadiya Welat for the 2012 IPI Free Media Pioneer Award. Send an e-mail to office@freemedia.at no later than 10 February 2012 and request that Azadiya Welat be nominated!

#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online

A campaign on Twitter is underway to raise awareness of the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and to bring the situation to the attention of the international media.

The campaign, dubbed #TwitterKurds, has been organised by UK-based blogger and human-rights activist, Hevallo, who says that journalists in the UK tend to shy away from reporting on the Kurds saying ‘there is no real link to the UK and there are other conflicts that are more newsworthy.’

While other conflicts across the globe capture the world’s attention, the Kurds’ struggle for ethnic and linguistic equality in Turkey goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press. Hevallo says that one of the main issues hindering the ability of global media to report on this particular conflict fairly and accurately is that ‘Turkish propaganda and psychological misinformation cloud the issue and many people still regard the Kurds’ legitimate struggle for basic rights in Turkey as “terrorism.”’

The Kurd as ‘terrorist’ is an all too common theme in the Turkish press and often in European press as well. Little effort is made to reach beyond the Turkish propaganda machine and clichés to reveal the truth.

The #TwitterKurds campaign will attempt to do just that by reaching out to journalists, politicians, bloggers and social media activists, policymakers, news agencies and human rights organisations with the message: ‘Speak Out About the Repression of the Kurds in Turkey’ and to give the Kurdish people a voice as they struggle daily on the streets of Turkey against a repressive regime.

Kurdish politician and leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said acts of civil disobedience planned by the BDP and the DTK (Democratic Society Congress) will be democratic and peaceful. ‘Don’t send the security forces against us; if you are going to send someone, send government representatives, send the interior minister. Security forces aren’t our counterpart to talk to; our counterparts are the politicians,’ he said.

However, security forces have been sent against them. The civil disobedience campaign has been met with batons, tear gas and high-pressure water cannons. In fact, just since the beginning of this year Turkish police have already used up their entire annual stock of tear gas in repressing demonstrations. In the same amount of time thousands of Kurdish protesters have been arrested.

Given the difficulties of getting this information to the attention of the global press, #TwitterKurds plans three days of mass Tweeting to get the message out. Turkey’s general election is slated for 12 June, just three weeks away. Over the next three Fridays (27 May, 03 and 10 June) in the run up to the elections, while Kurds are boycotting the official Turkish Imams and praying outside of the mosques instead, Kurds and friends of Kurds will be Tweeting en masse to speak out with one voice against the suppression of the Kurds in Turkey.

This collective suppression of the Kurdish population is due, in part, to ‘the silence in the international community,’ says Hevallo. By Tweeting, he says, ‘we are able to reach a wider audience than say, Facebook. If we are disciplined and smart about this, a well-constructed Tweet with a link to a well-written article, photograph or video can convey our message and give the Kurdish side’s point of view. Our Tweets will expose the truth about the Kurdish question in Turkey.’

Politicians are making the rounds in Kurdish areas of SE Turkey trying to garner votes. Yesterday Turkish PM Erdoğan was on the campaign trail in the city of Şirnex (Şırnak in Turkish). Surrounded by rooftop snipers and army helicopters he announced to the crowd of Kurds: ‘My brothers, we will build new hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics. For us [the party in power], there is no separation between a Turk and a Kurd. Let us serve you.’

Kurds have four demands and hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics are not among them, though this is a step up from the washing machines and dishwashers offered in the 2009 election.

Kurds are engaging in a massive campaign of civil disobedience for the right to education in Kurdish, the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish politicians, an end to Turkey’s military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the abolishment of Turkey’s 10 percent election threshold law for parliamentary representation.

‘Until our demands are heard by the government and until concrete steps are taken, we will remain on the fields and on the squares,’ said Demirtaş.

#TwitterKurds says that until Kurdish voices are heard by the international media and until people start paying attention, the campaign will remain on the Twitter timelines.

Join the campaign at #TwitterKurds!

HRW slams media repression in Kurdistan

HRW slams media repression and widening use of force in crackdowns on peaceful protesters in Kurdistan. Excerpts (related to Kurdistan) below are from ‘Iraq: Widening Crackdown on Protests: New Restrictions, Abuse in Arbil, Sulaimaniya, Baghdad‘, Human Rights Watch, New York, 21 April 2011.

Kurdistan authorities should end their widening crackdown on peaceful protests in northern Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should hold accountable those responsible for attacking protesters and journalists in Arbil and Sulaimaniya since April 17, 2011, including opening fire on demonstrators and beating them severely, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should revoke their recent bans on unlicensed demonstrations in Sulaimaniya province, Human Rights Watch said.

“Iraqi authorities in Kurdistan and Baghdad need to rein in their security forces and protect the right to protest peacefully,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Repression in Kurdistan

In the afternoon of April 18 in Arbil, the Kurdistan capital, dozens of armed men in civilian clothes attacked students from the Kurdistan region’s largest university, Salahadin, as they tried to hold a demonstration. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the assailants also attacked journalists and at least one Member of Parliament.

A third-year Salahadin student told Human Rights Watch that a large group of organized assailants wearing civilian clothes attacked the protesters with brute force.

“We chanted ‘freedom, freedom,’ and then security forces came and abolished the demonstration,” the student said. “They were hitting people by knives and sticks … and arrested 23 protesters.”

The assailants beat Muhamad Kyani, a member of the Iraqi national parliament for the opposition party Goran (Change) List, and his bodyguard while they were walking away from the demonstration. “There was no violence from us, nothing happened from our side to incite them,” Kyani told Human Rights Watch. “I was on my way to the car when the Asayish [the official security agency for the Kurdistan region] threw me to the ground and started to kick and beat me.” Kyani had two black eyes and other minor injuries from the beating. “They just wanted to intimidate and insult me and those with me,” he said. “During the beating they swore at us and called me a traitor.”

Reporters without Borders documented attacks on at least 10 journalists covering the April 18 protest. The group said assailants also detained numerous journalists, including Awara Hamid of the newspaper Rozhnam, Bahman Omer of Civil Magazine, Hajar Anwar, bureau chief of the Kurdistan News Network, and Mariwan Mala Hassan, a KNN reporter, as well as two of the station’s cameramen.

Shwan Sidiq of Civil Magazine was hospitalized after the assailants broke his hand. “My hand is broken, my head still hurts,” he told Human Rights Watch. “What I saw was what in 1988 Saddam Hussein did against me and my family.”

Security forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the two ruling parties there, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have used repressive measures against journalists since the start of the protests in Iraq on February 17. The local press freedom group Metro Center has documented more than 150 cases of attacks and harassment of Kurdish journalists since February 17. In March, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 journalists covering the protests in Kurdistan.

“Time and again we found that security forces and their proxies violate journalists’ freedom of expression through death threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, harassment, and by confiscating and vandalizing their equipment,” Stork said.

In Sulaimaniya, daily clashes since April 17 have injured more than 100 protesters, journalists, and security forces. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on April 17 security forces fired live ammunition into the air to clear protesters blocking a road, while others shot into the crowd indiscriminately, wounding at least seven demonstrators.

“Police and security forces used everything to attack us,” one protester told Human Rights Watch. “They opened fire, threw stones, used sticks and their Kalashnikovs to keep us from demonstrating.”

Protest organizers told Human Rights Watch that on April 18, security forces violently seized control of Sara Square, the center of daily protests in Sulaimaniya since February 17, and demolished the protesters’ podium. Security forces have fanned out across the city and have refused to allow protesters back to the site – renamed Azadi (Freedom) Square by demonstrators – resulting in clashes on April 18 and 19.

On March 6, masked assailants attacked demonstrators and set their tents on fire but failed to evict protesters from the site.

On April 19, protest organizers said, security forces detained dozens of students and others in and around Sulaimaniya, releasing most later in the day. One law undergraduate told Human Rights Watch that security forces attacked her and other protesters at the Dukan checkpoint on their way to Sulaimaniya.

“We were forced to get off the buses,” she said. “They threatened if we went [to the protest], we would be killed. A friend of mine asked them not to shoot us because we have pens and not guns, but when he raised his pen security forces opened fire and he was badly injured.”

Since then, this student said, she has received anonymous threatening phone calls telling her not to return to Sulaymaniya. Security forces raided Koya University, where she studies, and arrested two students. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The family of a prominent Kurdish writer and activist, Rebin Hardi, told Human Rights Watch that security forces severely beat him during and after his arrest on April 19 for participating in a protest in front of the Sulaimaniya courthouse. Photos taken after his release later that day viewed by Human Rights Watch showed severe swelling up and down the right sight of his body including his eye, arm, and thigh.

Since February 17, clashes with security forces have killed at least seven civilians and injured more than 250 demonstrators in Kurdistan, but thousands have continued to protest alleged corruption and the political dominance of the KDP and PUK.

On April 19, the government’s Security Committee for Sulaimaniya Province banned all unlicensed demonstrations. Legislation passed by the Kurdistan Regional Government in December gives authorities wide discretion in deciding whether to approve a license for a protest. The law’s wording is exceptionally vague and susceptible to abuse, Human Rights Watch said. Under article 3(c) of the law, authorities can reject a request if “the protest will damage the system or public decency.”

Syria: Will Friday bring dignity or disaster?

Newroz in Qamişlo

March has been a month of contradictions in Syria. Protests and clashes have rocked the town of Dera’a in southwestern Syria, while Kurds are receiving positive, though not necessarily sincere, attention from the regime.

As Kurdistan Commentary wrote in early February, if protests were to occur in Syria, ‘given the regime’s penchant for non-tolerance of disobedience and ruthless repression of dissent, the other possibility is violent suppression of the protests.’ And the result ‘will be nothing short of mayhem.’

Protesters Dera’a, where the death toll is in the dozens, are demanding the repeal the Emergency Law adopted in 1963 when the ruling Ba’ath Party took power, the release of political prisoners, free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, and economic reforms to alleviate chronic unemployment and growing poverty in the country. It is not terribly surprising then that Dera’a, one of the poorest regions in the country, is at the epicentre of the protests.

While all the attention on Syria right now is focused on the clashes and killings in Dera’a and other nearby towns, Dera’a is probably the town furthest from Qamişlo (al-Qamishli in Arabic), the Kurdish centre of Syria.

The Kurdish minority in Syria, some 10% of the population, faces severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. The state of emergency that has been in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.

Given Qamişlo’s past, the Syrian regime hedged its bets and stepped up security there and other regional Kurdish areas. The Syrian military was deployed in force in Qamişlo just prior to Newroz (Kurdish New Year celebrated on the spring equinox) and thousands of soldiers were stationed in al-Hassakeh. It was reported though that the security forces in the Kurdish region were under strict instructions not to clash with the Kurds during Newroz, a time during which Kurds and Syrian security forces typically come to blows often resulting in deaths and mass arrests.

Newroz celebration. Photo/SANA

In a very interesting twist this year, SANA (the official state-run Syrian Arab News Agency) reported that Kurds in Syria celebrated Newroz. Syrian media never mention or acknowledge the Kurds. The SANA report emphasised ‘the state of amity binding all Syrians in a fabulous national mosaic.’ The report also said that Kurds celebrated joyously waving Syrian flags.

The Kurdish website Soparo also reported that two TV channels (Orient TV and Ad-Dounia TV) in Syria broadcast events from Newroz celebrations in Drejik, a village some 30km from Qamişlo.

In Qamişlo, Kurds poured into the streets to celebrate Newroz. Though no clashes with the authorities were reported, speakers at the celebrations echoed calls for ending state of emergency, release of political prisoners, and respect for political freedoms. At night, celebrations turned to protests, with protesters filling the narrow streets of the city, shouting ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom’ and cars honked their horns.

A Kurd from a prominent dissident family in Qamişlo said: ‘I’ve lost my mother, sister, and brother, and I have nothing more to lose. At the same time, looking at what’s happened in previous years, I don’t even want to think what the reaction would be if we step out of line.’

In another gesture to the Kurds, the Syrian Ministry for Social Affairs and Labour announced on 07 March, that registered stateless Kurds in Syria (ajanib) would have the same status as Syrian citizens in all areas of employment. Until then, ajanib were not allowed to own a business or register one in their name. Nor did they have the right to work as a state employee (such as a teacher, judge, or doctor in a public hospital), or to practice law. The extent to which this decision will be implemented currently remains unclear. This decision does not affect the unregistered stateless Kurds, the maktumeen.

Buthaina Sha’aban

But just a few days later it was business as usual. Students at the University of Damascus were arrested for observing a moment of silence with other students at the university to mark the seventh anniversary of the ‘Qamişlo Uprising.’ It is not currently known which security service arrested the two students or where they are being held.

Clearly the regime in Damascus does not want confrontations with its Kurdish populations at the moment while it is violently repressing demonstrations in Dera’a. It is unfortunate though that the relative calm in the northeast comes only because of the harsh crackdowns in the southwest.

Yesterday, Bashar al-Asad’s political and media advisor, Buthaina Sha’aban, wished Kurds a ‘Newroz Mubarak’ or ‘happy new year,’ as she spoke at a news conference describing the ‘wonderful coexistence’ amongst Syrian people. More of the ‘fabulous national mosaic’ discourse. Sha’aban also said the government was drafting a law that would allow political parties other than the ruling Ba’ath party, would examine lifting emergency law, and loosen media restrictions.

Dignity Friday

Media restrictions are some of the most severe in the Middle East. In early February, however, the Syrian regime restored access to Facebook and YouTube, both of which had been long banned. Kurds have set up a Facebook page (Şoreşa Ciwanên Kurd/ثورة الشباب الكردي) that links to the other Syrian sites calling for change in Syria. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said however that ‘one month after allowing Facebook into Syria, Syrian forces are detaining those who dare to use it to communicate.’

Today, Friday, 25 March may well be a tipping point for protesters calling for reforms. Today is supposed to be a day of protests, dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by online democracy activists, and calling for rallies across the country.

With dawn breaking in Qamişlo, there are already reports on Twitter of gunfire, protests, and marches there, as well as pro-regime forces driving through the city beeping their horns.

Protesters chant ‘God, Syria and just freedom’ and then ‘freedom, freedom’, on 21 March 2011, as Kurdish flags fly in the background. The chant is a take on the Baa’thist chant ‘God, Syria and Assad.’ Video clip found at Alliance for Kurdish Rights website.

SOURCES:

Blanford, Nicholas. Syria protests escalate, but could revolt really take root? MinnPost, 21 March 2011.

Malla, Hussein and Zeina Karam. Syria concessions fail to ease fears ahead of Dignity Friday. The Scotsman, 25 March 2011.

Damascus: Ajanib receive equal status in employment matters. KurdWatch, 14 March 2011.

Damascus: Students arrested after moment of silence. KurdWatch, 16 March 2011.

Syrian Revolution Digest, March 21, 2011. Damascus Bureau, 23 March 2011.

Syria: Security Forces Kill Dozens of Protesters. Human Rights Watch, 24 March 2011

أخبار: شعبان: دراسة انهاء العمل بقانون الطوارئ بالسرعة الكلية , تشكيل لجنة لمحاسبة المتسببين والمقصرين في أحداث درعا, زيادة الرواتب للعاملين في الدولة بصورة فورية , تعديل مرسوم 49 Welatê Me, 24 March 2011.

لأول مرة قناتين تلفزيونيتين سوريتين تغطيان نوروز سوريا والكرد يحييون فيها انتفاضة 15 آذار السورية Soparo, 22 March 2011.

دمشق والمحافظات تشهد احتفالات بعيد النوروز.. المشاركون: تعكس التنوع الثقافي والحضاري وتعبر عن الألفة والمحبة بين أبناء الوطن SANA, 22 March 2011.

AUI-S Voice: independent student media

The AUI-S Voice, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, is a publication of the students of The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUI-S). AUI-S is a private non-profit university offering a comprehensive American-style liberal arts education to all qualified students regardless of their affiliation or origin. It opened its doors in October 2007.

The AUI-S Voice published its first issue on 31 January 2010 and to date has published 24 issues, with articles about a Facebook ban on the university campus, student feelings towards a ‘liberal arts’ education, tree planting on campus to reduce CO2, and student support for Egyptian protesters.

Click to watch video of the Voice's first year celebration

Arez Hussen Ahmed, who majors in international studies, is the Editor-in-Chief and leads a staff of 50 students at this first independent student newspaper in Iraq. Ahmed, 19, calls the work challenging and says that the Voice, whose first commitment is to news about the university, ‘records the history of AUI-S.’

In an article published yesterday on the American Journalism Review website Jackie Spinnner, who was the founder and first faculty adviser of the Voice, describes it as ‘a scrappy bimonthly newspaper with an excess of spelling and grammatical errors as well as an abundance of ambition.’

She goes on to say that the Voice ‘is attempting to do what few professional media outlets have been able to accomplish since the fall of Saddam Hussein: to bring Arab and Kurdish journalists together in a politically and ethnically divided Iraq with no alliance to any political party or religious sect, with no allegiance to anything at all except fairness and accuracy.’

The Voice’s website describes itself as ‘an independent publication and is not connected to any political party, religious group or ethnic group’ and says it ‘will defend [the newspaper] against influence from any group or individual, including those who support [it] logistically and financially.’

The newspaper got off to a rocky start though because of attempts to control it. When it first tried to begin publishing in 2009, political parties tried to control it through the students, and the AUI-S administration immediately shut it down.

Now the Voice prohibits students in political party leadership positions from overseeing the staff, accepting financial contributions from political parties, and publishing stories or editorials about political issues.

The staff members consist of Kurdish and Arab students, diligently working to create a sustainable publication that could serve as a model for other student newspapers in the country.

The Voice’s first photo editor, Hazha Ahmed, says the staff ‘all started from zero and had no skill of how to work in a newspaper, but with the passage of time and engaging more with the work, I learned that we are capable of managing a newspaper that achieved many accomplishments.’

Namo Kaftan, the paper’s first Web editor, assigned video reports, created multimedia and updated the site. The Voice’s website contains some video reports and slide shows as well as .pdf copies of all its issues.

Former faculty adviser Spinner says though that ‘the students have not produced any new multimedia reports or posted breaking news on the Voice website in five months because no one has taught the new staff how to produce the reports or stressed the importance of the Web.’

The Voice does have a Facebook page, which seems somewhat active and has 564 ‘likes.’ However, their Twitter feed shows fewer than a dozen tweets with nothing new for almost a year.

Iraqi media specialist, Mohammed Salih, who is at AUI-S says this commitment ‘to having an independent campus newspaper is a cause for much celebration.’ He adds that ‘it is also a cause for hope that the young generation, through some assistance and liberal education, as offered at AUI-S, is capable of putting forward a different vision for the future of the country, one that shows despite all differences we can work together in a productive manner.’

Kurdistan Commentary wishes the staff of the Voice success in their journalistic endeavours. It is a worthy undertaking that we hope will produce the next generation of journalists in a region in need of a free and fair media, reporting and publishing freely and without the stress of undue political influences.
Sources:

Spinner, Jackie. Letter From Iraq, American Journalism Review, 03 March 2011.

AUI-S Voice website

The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani website

 

Death threats and targeted physical attacks on journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) wrote [yesterday] to KRG President Massoud Barzani, voicing deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists there since 17 February. The situation for journalists in Kurdistan has never been great. In November 2010 RWB released a mission report entitled Between Freedom and Abuses: The Media Paradox in Iraqi Kurdistan that explored tense relationships that exist between the government and journalists, saying that there remains a profound lack of understanding between authorities and media professionals, as neither camp seems to accept the role of, or necessity for, the other.

The RWB letter:

HE Massoud Barzani
President of the Kurdistan Regional Government
Office of the President
Erbil

Paris, 28 February 2011

Dear President Barzani,

In a report released on 3 November, Reporters Without Borders said there was more press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan than in surrounding regions and that the situation had improved considerably in the past 10 years. However we would now like to share with you our deep concern about the deterioration in the situation of journalists in your autonomous region since 17 February.

During the past 10 days, our organization has registered many physical attacks by the security forces on journalists covering the current demonstrations. Many journalists have also told us that they have received explicit death threats. Please find enclosed a list of these incidents, which is not exhaustive.

As president of the autonomous regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, Reporters Without Borders urges you to do everything in your power to end these media freedom violations and to ensure that the safety of all journalists is guaranteed. We would also like these incidents to be investigated, especially the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our request.

Sincerely,

Jean-François Julliard
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

A non-exhaustive list of incidents targeting media personnel during the past 10 days

* 27 February – incidents at Erbil

- Allan Sahebqrran
, a reporter for the newspaper Hawlati, was attacked by men in civilian dress, who slashed his face.

I was outside the headquarters of the Erbil governorate with other journalists,” he said. “People in civilian dress ordered us to leave. At first they said they were police. Then they said they worked for the Asayesh [intelligence services]. We also saw their cards. We were then followed by 12 plainclothes members of the security forces. When we got to the centre of Erbil, they hit me. Some of them filmed what was happening while the others kept on hitting me. I filed a complaint and was able to recover my camera from the Asayesh a bit later but I did not get my mobile phone back. My neck still hurts.”

- Shwan Sidiq, a reporter for Civil Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders that a man in civilian dress prevented him from taking photos of a demonstrator who had been injured in Erbil.

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a journalist with the satellite TV station KNN, said KNN cameraman Rahman Nariman was attacked in Kalar by members of the security forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two main parties that form the coalition government. His camera was taken and shots were fired at him.

- Hemn Karim, the editor of Fshar, and Salman Kochari, a reporter for Standard Magazine, told Reporters Without Borders they had received death threats.

* 26 February, a series of incidents, above all at Kalar (100 km south of Sulaymaniyah)

- Garmiyani Hamay Pur, a KNN journalist based in Kalar, told Reporters Without Borders that the security forces banned him from filming. “I was told that the security forces had been ordered to hit journalists who covered the demonstrations. As a result, now only the partisan media can film during marches.

- Kawa Garmiyani, a reporter for the newspaper Awene, was physically attacked by masked gunmen who seized his camera and recorder while covering clashes between police and demonstrators earlier in the day in Kalar.

- Speda TV journalist Sarkawt Salam and a photographer, Sangar Hamid, were attacked by gunmen. “We were attacked without any reason while covering the demonstration,” Salam told Reporters Without Borders.

- Hawlati reporter Soran Ahmed was accosted in Sulaymaniyah by members of the counter-terrorist forces led by Pavel Talabani, the son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who heads the other main ruling party in Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). “They confiscated my camera and mobile phone,” he told Reporters Without Borders. “They also took my press card and the card issued by the Union of Journalists.”

- Irfan Ahmed, Anwar Arab, Salam Haji and Nasih Abdulrahim were arrested by security forces while covering a demonstration in Halabja (80 km east of Sulaymaniyah). They were taken to the mayor’s office and were released an hour and a half later.

- Freelance journalist and writer Soran Omar said he had received many threatening SMS messages from different phone numbers after giving an interview on the TV station Payam. “I think even Sulaymaniyah is not a place for independent journalists,” he told Reporters Without Borders. He requested protection from the authorities and contacted the mobile phone company Asia Cell to request the identity of the owners of the SIM cards from which the threats were sent.

- Bestun Jallayi, the Speda TV bureau chief in Kalar, said he received a threatening SMS message in the evening. “Wait for death’s flood,” the SMS said.

- Someone hacked into the Facebook pages of two influential writers and intellectuals, Mariwan Wrya Qani and Aras Fatah, after they voiced support for the demonstrations. The Kurdistanpost.info news website was also blocked.

*25 February, many journalists report receiving death threats

- Niyaz Abdulla, an Erbil-based reporter for Radio Nawa, told Reporters Without Borders she was threatened by security forces while outside the Erbil governorate’s headquarters to cover a demonstration by young people in support of the Sulaymaniyah demonstrators. KDP supporters insulted her and threatened her with violence. When she left, she was followed by plainclothes officers until she found a taxi.

Nowadays there is no point filing a complaint against the security forces,” she said. She also said that security forces confiscated a camera from a journalist working for the newspaper Rudaw.

- Latif Fatih Faraj, a journalist with PUK links who heads the Journalists Union in Kirkuk said: “I had just returned home after taking part in a live KNN programme on the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah and other cities when I got a phone call. Describing himself as an important politician, the caller said he was going to kill me for criticising the KDP, which is led by Massoud Barzani, the autonomous Kurdistan region’s president. His number? 0770 39 705 98.

The head of the KDP in Kirkuk denied that his party could be responsible for such threats. “So I called the PUK, the Asayesh and the police,” Faraj added. “The police offered to put me under the protection of bodyguards but I refused. My brothers and cousins are with me, to protect me if anything happens to me.”

- Members of a group of journalists based in Erbil were threatened after expressing support for the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah. One of them, writer and political analyst Salah Mazen, wrote on Facebook: “Someone called me last night and clearly advised me not to participate in the demonstrations organized in Erbil. He said if I wanted to demonstrate, I should just go to Sulaymaniyah. He said, word for word: ‘If you value your life and love your children, stay quietly at home or leave Erbil for Sulaymaniyah.’”

- Shawqi Kanabi, the head of the KNN bureau in Erbil, told Reporters Without Borders he had been warned that the station’s bureau could be attacked if it filmed the demonstrations in Erbil.

- Freelance journalist Barzan Ali Hama was forced to leave Erbil after organizing a petition signed by a number of journalists that urged the region’s parliament to find a solution to the current crisis and to ensure that those responsible for shooting on demonstrators were brought to justice. Several of the signatories, who asked not to be identified, withdrew their support after receiving threats from KDP supporters.

- Kaywan Hawrani, a freelance journalist based in Halabja, has also had to flee. One of his friends said: “Kaywan was one of the organizers of the 23 February demonstration in Halabja during which a policeman was injured. Soon after the demonstration, the police began to arrest the organizers. Kaywan fled the town. The police are looking for him.”

- Meanwhile, a representative of the opposition party Goran said during a special parliamentary session on 23 February that six Peshmergas [Kurdish fighters] who were responsible for the arson attack on the privately-owned TV station NRT on 20 February were currently hospitalised because of the burns they sustained during the attack.

We now know the people who were responsible for this attack but we have obtained no clear response from the interior ministry and intelligence services.” He said. According some rumours, two of the Peshmergas involved were sent to Turkey for treatment because of the gravity of their burns.

* Incidents already mentioned in a previous release

* 21 February

- Ageed Saleem, an NRT reporter in Duhok, said he was threatened by a leading KDP member.

* 20 February

- Criminal raid of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT), a new satellite TV station based in Sulaymaniyah.

- KNN reporter Bryar Namiq was badly injured by police and members of the Asayesh.

- KURDIU reporter Balen Othman was attacked and his camera was destroyed.

- Goran Othman, a journalist with the Islamic Group news website, was attacked.

- Shaswar Mama, an NRT reporter in Raniya, was accosted by members of the security forces.

- KURDIU reporter Mukhlis Ahmed was attacked in Raniya.
- Following its coverage of the previous day’s events in Sulaymaniyah, staff at the newspaper Hawlati received a threatening phone call saying they should evacuate their Erbil office.

* 19 February
Police prevented many journalists from covering protests at the University of Sulaymaniyah.

- Asayesh beat Hawlati reporter Ara Ibrahim using batons.

- Police attacked a KNN TV crew.

- Aras Muhammad, the head of Arasta magazine and Sound Radio, was injured by members of the Asayesh.

- Hardi Salami, a reporter for the satellite TV station Gali Kurdistani, sustained a leg injury.

- Payam reporter Wrya Ahmed sustained injuries to the hands and legs when he was attacked by police.

- The Sulaymaniyah security committee also demanded university academic and intellectual Faruq Rafeeq’s arrest after he said, while taking part in a demonstration in Sulaymaniyah on 17 February: “Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, should apologize for the incidents and deaths caused by members of his party. Those who fired the fatal shots and those who gave them their orders should be arrested and brought to justice. And finally, the Peshmergas should leave the city.

* 18 February

- Lutfi Doski, a Duhok-based KNN reporter, was prevented from filming the premises of the Gorran party in Duhok.

- An NRT team was prevented from filming demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Chatr were forced to delete the photos they had taken of the demonstrations.

- Reporters for the newspaper Hawlati were prevented from filming incidents taking place in Sulaymaniyah.

* 17 February

- Radio Gorran was prevented from broadcasting.

- Police prevented KNN reporters from filming the incidents.

- Shwan Muhammad, the editor of the newspaper Awene, was insulted by Peshmergas.

- Rahman Gharib, the head of the press freedom organization METRO and a reporter for Sumariya News, was attacked.

- KNN programme director Namo Namiq was detained for several hours.

- Radio Nawa reporter Bilal Muhammad was attacked and prevented from covering the incidents.

- Saman Majed and Bwar Jalal, reporters for the PUK’s satellite TV station Gali Kurdistan, were attacked.

- Sherko Salayi, a reporter for CNN in Arabic, was attacked.

- Hemin Abdul Latif, reporter for the Destur news website, was badly injured while photographing demonstrators attacking the local headquarters of the KDP.

- The Erbil headquarters of the KNN TV and radio station were set on fire.

- Ari Muhammad, a photographer with the Metrography agency, was injured.

Armed attack on Nalia (NRT) TV; station destroyed by fire

Nalia (NRT) office building after the attack.

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.’

Gutted interior of Nalia (NRT) TV station

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.