Amnesty International publishes report on Kurdistan Region

Reporters Without Borders ranks Iraq 169th in Press Freedom Index

NEWSROOM – Reporters Without Borders has ranked Iraq 169th out of 180 countries in its report for World Press Freedom Day, marking a drop of two positions from the previous year. The report points to the numerous dangers journalists face from terrorism, political turmoil, and protests, exacerbated by insufficient government protection.

RSF notes the intense media polarization caused by political influence in media, which hampers objective journalism. There are very few independent outlets, especially on a national scale. Since 2019, journalists who have pushed for their rights have faced threats, and media organizations covering anti-corruption efforts have been attacked. In the Kurdistan region, journalists critiquing the government have encountered espionage charges and jail time.

Despite Iraq’s constitutional guarantee of press freedom, other conflicting articles and defamation suits by public figures limit journalistic freedom. An impending cyber-crime law could also penalize online material seen as harmful to national interests.

Jihadists, militias, and unknown assailants have killed journalists in Iraq, with many of the murders unresolved. Death threats and kidnappings have deterred not only prominent journalists but also lesser-known ones, according to RSF.

Amnesty International has criticized the Kurdistan Region authorities for their treatment of journalists. “The KR-I authorities boast that the Region is a ‘beacon of press freedom’, but that is a ludicrous claim given their crackdown on press freedom and the harassment, intimidation and prosecution of journalists, especially those who have reported on allegations of corruption and criticized authorities’ handling of social issues,” said Amnesty’s Iraq Campaigner Bissan Fakih.

The Amnesty report highlights the cases of journalists Qaraman Shukri and Sherwan Sherwani. Shukri is serving a seven-year sentence after a trial that Amnesty described as “grossly unfair and secret.” He was critical of how the Kurdish authorities handled Turkish airstrikes and was reportedly subjected to forced disappearance, beatings and coercion to confess to crimes he did not commit.

“No one should face harassment and intimidation simply for carrying out their journalistic work,” said Bissan Fakih. “The KRG should immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for their journalistic work. Authorities should uphold human rights and press freedom and take credible steps to create a conducive environment where journalists can carry out their work safely and people are allowed to express critical opinions freely.”

Dr. Saman Fawzi, a media law expert, told 964media, “Reports and critiques from international organizations should be taken seriously due to their impact on the perceptions of countries that have relations with the Kurdistan Region. These countries’ perspectives are crucial to their citizens.” Saman, a university professor and former member of the Iraqi parliament, is an expert on media law that journalists and media organizations frequently consult for advice. He said, “Arresting journalists has repercussions on the region’s reputation and invites criticism from organizations.”

Rahman Gharib, the director of the Metro Center, told 964media, “Undoubtedly, these reports issued by international organizations and monitoring institutions regarding press freedom are important and should lead to a reassessment of human rights cases and freedom of the press in general.”

“The director of the Metro Center added, “These organizations issue critical reports to promote and protect democracy in the Kurdistan Region and should not be viewed as adversaries.”

In 2023, the Metro Center reported 37 arrests and 27 instances of attacks, threats, and insults against journalists in Kurdistan. Amnesty International noted at least 10 detentions or summonses of journalists in the first quarter of 2024, with some facing prison after unfair trials.

The KRG has not responded to the report. Attempts by 964media to secure comment were unsuccessful. Dindar Zebari, the KRG coordinator for international advocacy, did not respond. Peshawa Hawramani, the KRG spokesperson, also did not reply. Hemen Lihoni, head of the Liaison Office at the KRG Prime Minister’s Office, declined to comment.

World Press Freedom Day, founded in 1993, commemorates the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of free press principles put forth by African newspaper journalists in 1991. This declaration underscores the importance of a free, independent, and pluralistic press, setting a standard for press freedom worldwide.