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International community urged to press authorities to end abuses against demonstrators, journalists in Kurdistan

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by a spate of arbitrary arrests in Iraqi Kurdistan as it prepares to celebrate the 113th anniversary of the creation of the first Kurdish news media on 22 April 2011.

Media freedom and security, which seemed better in Kurdistan than in neighbouring regions during the darkest years of the war in Iraq, have worsened a great deal in the past two months. The organisation urges the international community to press the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to stop violating the rights of demonstrators and journalists.

In one of the most disturbing latest developments, the Sulaymaniyah headquarters of Payam TV, a satellite television station operated by the Kurdistan Islamic Group, have been surrounded since 19 April by the security forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main parties that form the government in Kurdistan.

The head of Payam TV, Farouq Ali, said at a news conference that gunmen had established a security cordon at a distance of 300 metres from the building that houses the station. "A group of citizens and civil society activists have decided to gather around the station's offices to form a sort of human shield to prevent the situation from degenerating," he said.

He added that he feared something similar to the arson attack that was carried out last February on the headquarters of Naliya Radio and Television (NRT) in Sulaymaniyah to prevent it from continuing to cover demonstrations in the city. Many journalists have meanwhile been attacked and in some cases briefly detained in the past few days.

Jabar Aziz, the newspaper "Hawlati"'s correspondent in Raniya, told Reporters Without Borders on 20 April: "I was about to take a photo of the gunmen who were everywhere in the market in Raniya when they opened fire in my direction. I was lucky and managed to escape." Kaywan Hawrami, a reporter for the http://www.Lvinpress.com news website, was briefly detained by security forces in the Hallabja district.

Rebin Hardi, an influential columnist and intellectual, was briefly detained in Sulaymaniyah on 19 April while on his way to a sit-in outside the city's law courts to protest against the use of violence by the security forces against demonstrators. Forced to get into a bus, he was driven to an unidentified location and hit very hard in the face, hands and legs.

Hiwa Jamal and Sirwan Rashid, two staffers at the weekly "Rojnama", were arrested on 19 April and held overnight in a military prison. Bestun Muhammad of http://www.Sbeiy.com , Hunar Jamal of KNN, Mohammad Satar of Lvinpress.com, Soran Ahmed of "Hawlati" and Kawa Garmiyani of "Awene" were all arrested and beaten. Garmiyani's leg was broken.

Sardasht Othman of "Awene" was also arrested and an attempt was made to arrest freelance journalist Soran Omer, but he was not at home.

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