The security forces of Duhok Northern Province have closed the office of a local news website for 16 days without giving any explanation for the closure, while the website has an official license from the Kurdistan Union of Journalists.
Rast Media is a news website covering events in Duhok province, founded by Omid Fatah (Omed Baroshki).
Baroshki, a journalist from Badinan, was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for defaming the police and the governor of Duhok. He was arrested on August 18, 2020.
The freelance reporter Baroshki, one of the 82 detainees of Badinan, was freed on February 22nd following one-year-in-person verdict last September by Erbil criminal court while he was detained since June 2020.
A court of Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government KRG has sentenced a freelance reporter of one year in prison for charges of defamation in September 23rd, and was sentenced on June 22nd, 2021 for one year in prison for the same charges.
“On August 6, our first day of work, a security force entered the office and told us not to work. They old me they were ordered to close our office without explaining the reason for the closure,” Baroshki told Kirkuk Now.
A security force came into the office and told us to stop working and close our office
The website applied for a license to the Kurdistan Union of Journalists on July 26, 2022 and was granted a license on August 7th, one day following office closure.
“The delay of license was due to the fact that the deputy of the Kurdistan Union of Journalists was abroad.”
“We have visited the security forces, submitted all relevant documents and licnese to tell us the reason for the closure of our office but no explanation yet,” Baroshki added.
Iraqi and international media outlets and organizations, advocates and lawmakers expressed their grave concern that that press freedom is increasingly under threat in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI.
On June 22nd, Baroshki was charged one year in prison and fined about USD200 according to item two of misuse of telecommunication devices law for publishing a post in Facebook about governor of Duhok. The verdict was also based on article 240 of Iraqi penal code regarding assault against a civil servant on duty.
Azad Hama Amin, deputy head of the Kurdistan Union of Journalists, said they are aware of the closure of Rast Media website.
There is no law for websites in the KRI, but the Kurdistan Union of Journalists follows the press law in establishing websites and media institutions.
According to Article 3 of the Kurdish press law, the owner or founder of the website must submit a statement of incorporation to the Journalists Union which grants license.
"This is a violation of the Kurdistan Parliament's Law No. 35 of 2007, because they have an official license and there are no problems with their license," Hama Amin said.
This is a violation of Law No. 35 of 2007 of the Kurdistan Parliament
The deputy head of the journalists' union said he has no idea why the office of Rast Media was closed.
"If journalists have done something inappropriate, or published false information, the case should be dealt with through the courts," he said.
KirkukNow contacted the Duhok security (Asayish) director several times, but he did not respond.
"There is nothing to do with administrative and security measures, there is only a political possibility behind the closure," Baroshki thinks, without giving further explanation.
The closure of the office coincided with the announcement of demonstrations across the Kurdistan Region on August 6th by the New Generation Movement.
On August 9, the administrators of Rast Media met with a number of lawyers to take legal action against the Duhok security forces.
"We will wait for a while. If we find out that there is no intention to open an office, we will definitely have new plans," Baroshki said.
The website is currently active, but their office is closed.
Bashdar Hassan, one of the lawyers who met with the organizers of Rast Media, said, “We have not taken any steps to take the party who closed the office to court. We'll wait until the end of this week.”
Badinan detainees, part of them tried and freed up today, mainly journalists and civic activists, are victims of a wave of arrests carried out by the Asayish (Kurdish security forces) of the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG since October 2020 in response to a series of major protests against delay in salaries of state employees, KRG handling of the economic crisis resulting from disputes with Baghdad over oil production, export and corruption, and reached its peak under the Covid-19 pandemic.