Security forces discriminate journalists covering Erbil fire

Photos of violations against journalists in Downtown Market in Erbil.

By Farman Sadiq in Erbil

Police harm and harass journalists from three independent media outlets during the coverage of the fire erupted in the Downtown shopping center in Erbil Northern Province, journalists' rights organizations, while allow well-connected channels to launch live coverage.

Several shops in the Downtown market in Erbil were burned down on September 19 evening, and a number of journalists arrived at the scene to cover the incident. According to a video posted on social networks, several policemen prevent journalists from covering the fire.

Nabaz Rashad, reporter of Sulaymaniyah-based Westgate News Website, said, “We saw the police allowing some journalists to cover, and preventing several other journalists, but they wouldn't let us go.”

"Biryar Mohammed, Politics Press reporter, told the policemen why they were doing this discrimination. At that time, a policeman insulted me and Biryar and tried to beat us," Rashad said.

A policeman reproaches us, and tried to beat us

"The fire brigade told us that it was forbidden to enter, but then we saw several channels covering the incident," said Diyar Hussein, a reporter for Esta Media Network, who was at the scene.

“We asked them to let us in and there should be no discrimination between the media channels, but two police officers tried to attack Nabaz Rashad. We told them that this is unfair and they should not discriminate.”

Nabaz Rashad and several other journalists were prevented from coverage of the fire incident. Video: Metro Center

“The police told us what kind of journalists you are... you don't know how to work in the media, then they insulted us and threatened us,” Hussein said.

According to KirkukNow's reporter, the journalists who crossed the safety tapes belonged to or were close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

According to the report of the Kurdistan Union of Journalists, out of 62 violations against journalists in the first six months of this year, the most violations were discrimination, which was 20 cases.

I have told the Erbil police officials to avoid such a behavior

According to the Metro Center's 2021 report, out of 353 violations against journalists, 189 were discriminatory, over 50% of the total violations.

Hozan Qadir, president of the Organization for Rights and Development of Journalists, said, “We feel that violations are increasing, including discrimination.”

"I have told the Erbil police officials to this behavior because what happened to the journalists is worrying," she added.

According to Hozan Qadir, the discrimination between the media outlets is due to the Kurdistan Parliament, which passed the law itself, while does not respect it and discriminates between the outlets.

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Erbil, August 2021: A number of journalists waiting for a press conference at the Ministry of Health. Exclusively for KirkukNow 

“This discrimination is evident in the Kurdistan Parliament and the Presidency of the Kurdistan Regional Government and has spread to the ministries... When discrimination is made at the level of the government and parliament, other institutions look to them.”

The local and international organizations, human rights advocates members of the Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments MPs expressed their grave concern that freedom of press and expression is increasingly under threat all over Iraq including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI.

The Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq PFAA monitored 280 cases of violations against journalists from May 3, 2021 to May 2, 2022 per which Baghdad and Erbil ranked first with 56 violations, followed by Kirkuk province with 37 cases.

On May 3, 2022, which marks World Press Freedom Day, the PFAA published a special report on violations committed against journalists in Iraq.

The Association for Defending Press Freedom in Iraq is a non-governmental association founded by a group of Iraqi journalists and annually publishes a report about violations committed against journalists in Iraq.

According to the fourth paragraph of Article 7 of the Kurdistan region press law, “Journalists have the right to attend public conferences and activities” and the second paragraph of Article 2 states that “Journalists may obtain any information from different sources in accordance with law.

Nazakat Hussein, secretary of the committee for the protection of press freedom and rights of journalists in the Kurdistan Union of Journalists, said that no journalist has informed the union about the discrimination in the downtown market of Erbil.

"The existence of discrimination between the institutions has a legal and political dimension and is related to political conflicts," she said.

According to Article 4 of the Law on the Union of Journalists, it is the duty of the union to facilitate access to news and information for journalists.

“Most of the media outlets in Kurdistan are political institutions, so when the media becomes part of politics, it gets involved in political conflicts. This has created a chaos in the media environment where everyone opens a (Facebook) page, as well as the lack of professional handling of information that is often used for political conflict.”

Most of the media outlets in Kurdistan are political institutions

"The failure to implement the Right to Information Act is one of the reasons for discrimination, so there is discrimination in the media environment and political conflict with information," she added.

According to the Right to Information Law in the Kurdistan Region, which was passed by the Parliament in 2013, everyone, whether physical or intellectual, has the right to be informed and obtain information and documents requested from the institutions.

"Any journalist who has been violated can file a complaint and the case will go to the court and judge will decide about it," a source in charge of the Erbil police anonymously said.

However, journalists who have been violated are reluctant to file complaints, as Rashad said, “Because previous experience has told me that any complaint filed against the security forces for violations, the case will not go forward and will be closed.”

“They will not coordinate with you for other coverage in the future,” he concluded.

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