By Mufid Abdulla
In Kurdistan the two ruling parties view newspapers and the media as agents of revolution. Over the last few months the pressure on journalism has become more intense than ever. Several newspapers are notably independent and not in the pockets of the parties. They have opposed the recent actions of the KRG and so endured all kinds of harassment. Three major local newspapers (Lvin, Hawlati and Awena) have published powerful exposures of corruption and nepotism and as a result they have suffered the most.
Journalists in Kurdistan today play the same role as our freedom fighters did in the war against tyranny. Analysts in Kurdistan are not calling for a democracy to be built overnight – they know this process will take time. Reporters and journalists realise they must be patient but still the ruling parties will not allow criticism. There is a growing sense of unease in journalist circles. Despite their hard work, many are fearful that their homes and jobs will be seized and they will be jailed. They are suffering because the powers-that-be fear the power of the people. To quote the nineteenth century Irish nationalist, Charles Gavan Duffy: “The cradle of modern revolutions has not been the caserne of military conspirators, or the vente of a secret society, so commonly as the cabinet of a journalist”.
Lvinpress has printed an article about an alleged plot by the two ruling parties to kill the three leaders of the opposition. Another article by the same paper criticised the army minister for the military’s brutality against protesters. As soon it appeared, the KDP and PUK denounced the story and Talabani’s party registered a complaint and issued a libel suit against Lvin on 12th May. At the same time, the minister for the militia threatened Lvin’s chief editor Ahmed Meera over the phone. Fortunately Lvin has a recording of the abusive conversation. The police took Meera to a police station and held him for questioning for several hours.
The ruling parties do not appreciate that it is in society’s interests for them to be challenged by the local media. Libel law is a weapon in the hands of the ruling parties to restrict genuine journalism, especially since journalists have limited funds to fight these cases and often the judiciary is not neutral.
Journalism has become the most dangerous profession in Kurdistan, following the murders in the past two years of Soran Mama Hama and Sardasht Osman. Lvinpress has paid a heavy price because Soran Mama Hama worked for it and was investigating police corruption in Kirkuk.
Talabani has not simply ignored the basics of human rights: he has treated them with contempt. Journalism in Kurdistan needs encouragement, not abduction and intimidation. The two ruling parties consider every piece of news from independent media sources as a threat to their rule. They consider every article as an invasion of their privacy and their lives and every freelance journalist an enemy of the state. Journalists in Kurdistan deserve awards for their brave work.