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Journalists still being arrested, harassed and intimidated amid continuing protests in Kurdistan

(RSF/IFEX) - Threats and acts of intimidation against journalists are continuing in Iraqi Kurdistan as a wave of protests enters its 55th day in the autonomous region.

"This situation is worrying," Reporters Without Borders said. "Not a day goes by without a journalist being arrested, threatened or harassed. We reiterate our 25 March appeal to Iraqi Kurdistan's authorities to accept that they have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of journalists and their right to work freely."

The press freedom organisation added: "At the same time, the leaders of the two main political parties controlling the region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), must appeal for calm and give clear directives to their supporters."

The car of Soran Omer, a journalist who used to edit the magazine "Rega" and now works for the Islamic Group in Kurdistan, was set on fire at 2:20 a.m. on 9 April 2011 in Sulaymaniyah. "We were woken up by a big explosion outside the house," he said. "A neighbour helped me to put out the fire. I filed a complaint with the Sulaymaniyah court but it seems the police do not want to investigate. All this is linked to my articles criticising the situation in Kurdistan and my public interventions on Freedom Square."

The car of Adil Hassan, a journalist working for the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), was torched on 11 April in Sulaymaniyah.

Two journalists working for the KIU satellite TV station Speda - reporter Farhad Muhamad and cameraman Abdulla Ahmed - were arrested by KDP security forces on 11 April in Zakho, a town near the northern city of Duhok, while covering demonstrations to demand better public services.

Radio Nawa reporter and presenter Niyaz Abdulla and Hawlati reporter Wiriya Hama Salih were arrested and held for two hours on 5 April when covering a protest by Salaheddin University students, who were marching on the higher education ministry. "I was forced to give them my mobile phone, my voice recorder and my camera," Abdulla told Reporters Without Borders. "They also demanded my memory card, which I had just removed, but I refused." She still has not recovered her equipment.

Umed Omarawayi, a reporter for Payam TV and "Komal" newspaper, was harassed by police officers on 5 April in Soran (100 km northeast of Erbil) while taking photos in the town's hospital.

Balen Othman, a reporter for the KIU news website , said he was arrested by members of the KDP security forces while taking photos in the centre of Erbil on 5 April, and was released after being taken to the office of the Asayesh (intelligence services).

A Payam TV crew was turned back at a checkpoint when it tried to enter Erbil on 4 April. Rebwar Mirani, a member of the station's staff, told Reporters Without Borders that KDP security forces accused the crew of working for an opposition media. He said: "They told us we were troublemakers and could not enter KDP territory."

There has been no let-up in death threats against journalists either. Ali Mahmoud, a freelancer who writes columns for the weekly "Awene", told Reporters Without Borders he was threatened 13 times shortly after midnight on 8 April. "I was at home when I was called 13 times from 075 03 711574 between 00:09 and 00:54. I answered five of the calls. The last time I answered, a man's voice said: 'Tomorrow you are dead man'."

The journalist Rabar Uzer also received threatening calls on 7 April, in which he was told he would be killed if he continued to cover the demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah's Freedom Square. Erbil-based reporter Nzar Gzali filed a complaint after being threatened on 6 April in connection with his work for the weekly Awene.

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