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Fear mounts for journalists covering local elections in Iraqi Kurdistan

Workers carry ballot boxes as they prepare for the upcoming provincial elections, in Baghdad in 19 April 2013
Workers carry ballot boxes as they prepare for the upcoming provincial elections, in Baghdad in 19 April 2013

REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

The central government in Baghdad decided that nationwide local elections scheduled for 20 April should be postponed for at least six months in some areas because of an increase in violence but the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan are going ahead with the polling as planned in the three provinces they govern – Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk.

Nonetheless, on the eve of this symbolically important and historic election, relations between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government are very tense for various reasons, including a wrangle about Kirkuk's constitutional status, and some Kurdish towns even envisage not holding the elections for security reasons.

Fearing further deterioration, Reporters Without Borders urges the region's authorities to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists and allow them to work freely. At the same time, Reporters Without Borders reminds all those who provide news and information that their credibility depends on their neutrality and independence. They are supposed to act as watchdogs of the political process, not participants (see the Kurdish-language version of the Handbook for Journalists during Elections).

Recent violations of freedom of information in Iraqi Kurdistan

On 16 April, the satellite TV station Cira was prevented from covering a Yazidi festivity in Lalesh, in Dohuk province, which is controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two parties that dominate the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Cira, which broadcasts from Europe, has recently begun broadcasting programmes about the Yazidi, an ethnoreligious minority.

Mahmoud Yasin Kurdi, a young journalist, was arrested by three men in a military vehicle in Erbil on 15 April and was interrogated by members of the Asayesh (intelligence services) before being released three hours later. Kurdi is known for being a supporter of a former leader of the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and for criticizing the Kurdistan Regional Government, especially the KDP. KNN, a satellite TV station that supports the opposition party Goran, was jammed on 15 April, forcing it to switch to broadcasting via Nilesat using a different name.

Xabir TV, a station affiliated to the KIU, was denied access to the University of Zakho on 14 April during a ceremony to mark the Anfal (a massacre of Kurds by Saddam Hussein in 1988). The TV station's journalists were told they did not have the required authorization although they had obtained the university's permission to cover the event the day before.

When four journalists working for the newspaper Hawlati and the TV stations KNN and Speda went to cover a demonstration in Rania on 8 April by Peshmergas (former Kurdish fighters) demanding payment of salary, they were accosted by the demonstrators and their equipment was seized.

Awat Xayrwla, a journalist with the TV station NRT, was attacked by a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan while covering the opening of a hospital in Chamchamal (in Sulaymaniyah province) by the health minister at the start of April. The PUK is Iraqi Kurdistan's other main ruling party.

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