KT Interview with Bakir Osman:
Bakir Osman is the elder brother of Serdasht Osman, who was a journalist and final-year student at the University of Selahedin. Serdasht was abducted on 4 May 2010 in front of his university. Two days later, his body was found in neighbouring Mosul city with a bullet shot to his mouth.
KT: Why was your brother killed?
BO: Serdasht was murdered as a direct result of his journalistic work, in particular criticising injustice and corruption. As a brave journalist, he confronted the clan’s monopoly, injustice and corruption. He was murdered for expressing his views on the reality of ordinary people’s lives, for breaking the clan’s taboo that until then nobody had touched.
KT: Serdasht’s dossier is still in the Kurdistan court of law without any progress; instead there have been some insulting comments by the investigation committee. Why don’t you take his case to the Iraqi criminal high court? Or even the international criminal court? We are aware that the Reporters without Borders organisation promised to help you find justice during their visit to your family home.
BO: With regards to the dossier in the Kurdistan courts, you hit the nail right on top. What has been achieved so far is nothing more than a big insult by the court and prosecution services. The scenario that was presented and the lack of seriousness in finding justice demonstrate the fact that, neither courts nor the prosecution services are independent in Kurdistan. The public no longer trusts the prosecution services or the security services. These institutions are established by the ruling parties and run by them.
We have been working tirelessly in order to bring the dossier to the international criminal court. We have also received support from various organisations and freedom-loving individuals, for which we are very grateful. We are awaiting the results. I would also like to take this opportunity to stress that whenever they close a door on Serdasht’s dossier, we will find another way of starting again. Because Serdasht’s dossier is a matter of freedom of expression in Kurdistan and the success of this dossier will be the success of freedom of expression.
KT: Nebaz Gorran, Serdasht’s friend, recently talked about Serdasht’s love affair with a Barzani girl. How was this love affair? Why is this only coming into light now? Is there a direct link between the killing and the love affair?
BO: I’m not aware of this story. One thing that is crystal clear to the people of Kurdistan is that Serdasht was killed for his journalistic works – criticising the ruling clan in his writings and telling the truth. In one of his articles entitled, ‘My first death bell has rung’, Serdasht introduces us to his killers. Several months prior to being killed, he tells us why he is facing death threats and how he is being threatened. Serdasht’s case is far more important than those scenarios and stories which are designed to discredit his journalistic work. Furthermore, we believe any such scenarios and stories are to hide the truth and protect the perpetrators.
KT: What is the progress of the Serdasht liberty statue project that journalists raised money for?
BO: The project has broad support from the public and journalists. The artistic work has been completed but the government and relevant authorities have not granted us permission to install the statue. Until now we have applied for permission three times and all our applications have been refused. We believe that preventing this statue from going into the public eye exposes the authorities determination to suppress freedom in Kurdistan. It also shows the enormous fear the authorities have of the voices of freedom fighters like Serdasht and his colleagues.
KT: What are the reasons behind the Hawler mayor’s decision? Why not try and install the statue in Sulaymani, Kirkuk or Duhok instead?
BO: The answer to this question can only be provided by those who oppose the statue being installed in Hawler. The reasons given so far are baseless and not even worth discussing. I do not believe there is any legitimate reason at all.
As for Sulaymani, Kirkuk or Duhok, we have tried to install the statue wherever we can get permission but without any results. The Kurdistan region is not a safe place for journalists and freedom-seekers: They are being silenced forever by shooting them in the mouth for telling the truth and unveiling the true face of authority. After they are killed, no doubt there will not be a piece of land that embraces their freedom statue.
KT: We are aware that your family is under lots of pressure from the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) security and secret services. Your brother Beshdar has received death threat on several occasions. The KDP sends you threatening letters indirectly via your relatives. As far as we are aware you have been told indirectly to either keep quiet about Serdasht’s death or to leave Kurdistan. Why won’t you pass on these threats to the media and relevant international organisations?
BO: Regardless of how much pressure they are going to put us under or whatever methods they are going to employ – including forcing us to leave Kurdistan and issuing death threats – none of this will change the fact that Serdasht’s family is not the only party seeking justice here. From the moment Serdasht Osman was murdered, it was a public case and every freedom-loving citizen will defend him and seek justice. The mass demonstrations were proof. In reality, instead of the ruling clan trying to use these uncivilised methods to cover up the case, it should have implemented the demands of intellectuals and politicians from the moment Serdasht was murdered.
KT: There are opposition MPs in parliament now and most are unhappy about the way Serdasht’s case was handled. Why not work with them on the case?
BO: Even the opposition admits that the Kurdistan parliament is not a place to investigate any serious dossiers. During the mass demonstration in Hawler on 10 May 2010, in which we participated along with the organisers and journalists, we met with the parliament speaker and presented our demands. We have also publicised our demands via the media. During many events, we have mentioned that Serdasht’s dossier is being dealt with by the parliament, government, political parties, civil organisations and journalists.
The opposition MPs have promised to follow it up on several occasions and stated that they take the case very seriously. But this dossier still remains unsolved in parliament. This doesn’t mean we will give up, but rather it makes us even more determined to find other ways to achieve justice.
KT: How come only one person has been charged, when several gunmen were seen to abduct Serdasht?
BO: If you are referring to the scenario that was designed by the investigation committee, it was a misleading story to cover up the truth, to shelter the perpetrators and close the case. We condemn such scenarios.
KT: What should the new government do about the case?
BO: Almost three months ago, in a statement I presented the following demands:
- The formation of a joint committee of experts made up of members of international organisations, journalists and civil society organisation in which we as family have a presence.
- This committee has the power to interview any government or party officials as part of their investigation.
- Abandoning the scenario of the previous investigation committee, investigating them for their misleading report and even putting them on trial in a court of law.
- Investigating the individuals and organisations that have carried out further threats and put pressure on Serdasht’s family and friends.
KT: What are your views on the Soran Mama-Hama dossier and those killed during the 17 February 2011 anti-government demonstrations?
BO: The dossier of Soran Mama-Hama and Serdasht Osman are exactly the same, though their killings took place at different times and locations. The killing of civilians by the party militia is a direct attack on the most basic rights of the people of Kurdistan.
The dossier of 17 February and the clan gunmen who murdered civilians still roaming free: This reflects the fact that the authority is sheltering murderers.
Without trying the terrorists and murderers of journalists, anti-government protesters and champions of freedom of expression, there is no such thing as exchanging power or radical reforms. Any claim of freedom and democracy is false.
KT: What is the best tribute Kurds can make to Serdasht’s memory? How would you like people to remember him?
BO: I would like people to remember him how he was and to keep his message alive. Seeking the truth, justice and the trial of his murderers would be the best tribute to Serdasht and others similar to him.
The best way to remember him is by his own quote: “Until the last moment of my life, I shall express my views freely. From the moment my life ends … let my friend put a full stop and start again”.