ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — A journalist watchdog for the Kurdistan Region has published its annual report of violations for 2017, revealing that the number of reported violations against journalists has risen almost three-fold.
Last year, there were 137 cases of violations against 230 journalists, according to the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, compared to 45 cases against 80 journalists in 2016.
“International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has published reports saying violations internationally are at a 10-year low, but it has increased in the KRG and Iraq,” said Azad Hama Amin, the head of Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, in a press conference on Thursday in Erbil.
There were three assassinations attempts against four journalists, and additionally five cases of 13 media outlets being closed, said Amin, adding, that the violations have included lootings, burning houses of journalists, threats, and beatings, among others.
The watchdog reported violations in the Kurdistan Region, as well as disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil.
“One reason for the increases is the violations committed by the Iraqi Army and Hashd al-Shaabi in the Kurdistan areas,” said Amin.
Iraqi forces and the Iranian-backed took control of disputed territories from Kurdish security forces in October 2017, resulting in military deaths on both sides
Arkan Sharifi, a cameraman for Kurdistan TV, was stabbed to death by unknown perpetuators in the town of Daquq to the south of Kirkuk in November.
Amin added that they are in contact with the Iraqi Journalists Syndicates and the International Federation of Journalists to reduce the violations.
The ISIS war in Iraq also claimed the lives of two Kurdish journalists. Rudaw presenter Shifa Gardi was killed by an IED while reporting on an ISIS mass grave, south of Mosul, on February 25. Bakhtiyar Haddad, a Kurdish journalist, was killed on June 19 while covering the ISIS war in western Mosul with two French journalists who also died.
Nujiyan Erhan, a journalist injured when covering clashes between Rojava Peshmerga and Shingal Protection Units (YBS), succumbed to her wounds on March 23.
The advocacy group Metro for Journalists Rights and Advocacy strongly criticized the KRG’s record on violations against journalism, saying there were 90 cases of violations against journalists in the first four months of 2017.
Rising political disputes and tensions in the region were another reason for the increased violations, according to the syndicate, adding they follow through with the cases and hire lawyers for journalists against whom violations have been committed, but there are cases when journalists do not come forward to seek help from the syndicate.
In late December, the Kurdish broadcaster NRT was shut down and its offices ransacked on allegations of inciting deadly protests in the provinces of Sulaimani and Halabja. That same week KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani revoked the decision made by the Ministry of Culture.
A number of people stormed the Duhok office of NRT in August, as its owner at the time, Shashwar Abdulwahid Qadir, was heading a ‘No for Now’ campaign against the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum.
IFJ "expressed its strong concerns following the decision last week by the Iraqi media regulator, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), to shut down the Erbil-based Rudaw TV and K24 TV, a flagrant violation of Iraqi laws and a politically motivated decision” in late October.
Iraq ranks third on the Committee to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) Global Impunity Index.
Reporters Without Borders report ranked Iraq alongside Syria as the deadliest countries for journalists.