DUHOK, Iraq – The body of a Kurdish journalist was found late on Thursday in a rural area in the Kurdish province of Duhok. Initial reports indicated he had died of a gunshot wound but Duhok police claimed the post mortem examination showed he died from an attack by a wild animal.
The media channel he was working for said they are not convinced and believe he was assassinated.
Journalist Shukri Zaynadin, a father of nine, was found dead by a family friend late on Thursday in Amedi, a village in the border area between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey.
His friend, Mirza Karo, who first reported the death to the police and the journalist’s family, told police that the two were out hunting, Duhok police told Rudaw. Karo claimed that at one stage they separated to hunt individually. He said he heard a gunshot and headed towards the sound. By the time he arrived, he found his friend dead.
The area where the incident happened is not under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but is under Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) control. The region is under regular bombardment from Turkish artillery.
Because the KRG has no presence in the area, KRG authorities could not visit the site of Zaynadin’s death. His family brought his body and handed it over to KRG authorities at the first checkpoint to conduct a post-mortem.
The PKK has not issued a statement regarding the incident.
Zaynadin was working for the Kurdish News Network (KNN), owned by the Gorran Movement, the party with the second most number of seats in the Kurdistan parliament.
KNN said Zaynadin had been arrested a number of times and received threats from the Duhok Asayesh, Kurdish security.
“Shukri was arrested twice in 2013 by the Asayesh because of work with KNN, and three weeks ago he was threatened yet again to quit his job,” KNN reported on Friday using his first name.
“The rulers in that area or that region are the first people responsible for this issue,” Abdulrazaq Sharif, the head of Gorran media told KNN.
“But in Kurdistan Region, there is a sort of irregularity, or misgovernance that in a region, you do not know who rules. Is it a party, the Asayesh, a group, a company, or someone else? That is why the authorities in Kurdistan or the rulers appear with various masks or shapes,” he added.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won the majority of the seats in the provincial elections, and as such, controls local government in Duhok, including the security forces.
Relations between Gorran and the KDP plummeted last year when the KDP sacked Gorran ministers and its speaker of parliament, Yousif Mohammed, following days of demonstrations that resulted in the death of several KDP members.
Sharif called the death of Zaynadin a terrorist act, and, in a statement published by KNN, that they have sent a team to the area where he died, and also talked to his family. Sharif refuted the official statement from Duhok police claiming he was killed by a wild animal.
The police stated late on Friday that the post-mortem examination showed Zaynadin died from an attack by an animal, believed to be a swine, and ruled out the possibility of murder.
“Post-mortem examination has been done by special medical doctors, and found that there are no gunshot remnants on his body,” Hemin Sleman, Duhok police spokesperson, told reporters on Friday. He described a single wound on Zaynadin’s ankle.
Sleman had earlier told Rudaw that a gunshot had been heard before Zaynadin was found dead.
“Shukri went missing, he went missing from Mirza,” Sleman said, referring to Zaynadin’s friend he had gone hunting with.
“There was the sound of gunshot, he went towards the place where he heard the gunshot from, he then saw that this person was killed and had lost his life.”
Zaynadin’s brother, Niaamat, who along with his family had picked up his brother’s dead body, said that they saw the dead body of a swine close to his brother’s body in the village.
“Just 10 meters away from him, there was a swine killed by his gunshot,” Niaamat told Rudaw, adding that they also brought back the cartridge from the gunshot and handed it over to the authorities for investigation.
Niaamat said the family wanted to see his brother’s body before handing it over to the authorities so that they could see the truth with their own eyes, because they suspected he may have been killed for political reasons.
“Our conviction is that the thoughts we had turned out to be otherwise,” Niaamat said. “We thought it should be related to political issues, but this is completely different, this is an act of fate.”
Zaynadin, his family claimed, had received threats and been told to quit his job at KNN.
“He was threatened all the time,” Zaynadin’s wife told Rudaw. When asked who had threatened him, she said “It was all from the KDP.”
But she too has not blamed anyone for his death, saying “it was an act of fate.”
The death of Zaynadin comes just months after another journalist was tortured and murdered in Duhok in the latest in a series of attacks on journalists in the Kurdistan Region.
Wedat Hussein Ali, a journalist from Dohuk, was abducted and found dead on August 13, 2016. He had worked for RojNews which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). No arrests have been made in Ali’s murder which was widely condemned by rights agencies and free press advocates.
The Metro Center, a media rights organization based in the Kurdistan Region and monitoring freedom of the press in the region, documented the violations of the rights of 145 journalists in 2015, up from 107 the year before. The violations include beatings, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and murder.
The Center stated in their 2015 annual review that the lack of concrete action from the authorities to protect journalists means that such attacks continue with impunity.