Criticism of political parties should be welcomed, not censored

Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar

By Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar:

There is a general sense of ‘fear’ among journalists, especially young journalists, about criticising political parties, whether it is the ruling parties or political parties with influential status. Recently, the case of Kawa Garmiyani became a sad reminder of how censorship in Kurdistan can lead to intimidation, and eventually the killing of a journalist.

In Kurdistan we have a ‘patriarchal hierarchy of power’, which means we are unable to freely criticise the ruling parties due to a fear of being censored. In contrast to this, the ruling parties in the United Kingdom are scrutinised extensively on legitimate grounds without censorship. The criticism and scrutiny of the ruling parties leads to a healthy democracy whereby those in power are held accountable for the choices and decisions that are made under their rule.

In an ideal political party structure, criticism should be welcomed because it inevitably allows them to better serve the public instead of their pockets. Currently, writing explicitly about the ruling parties on cases relating to corruption or the misuse of power can even lead to being ‘blacklisted’ from acquiring a decent job with an established institution.

I distinctly remember in Kurdistan that the sense of ‘fear’ of writing critical content was so widespread that young people were unconsciously afraid to write about politics because it was drilled into them that writing critically could get them into trouble. Even though that not be the case in most instances, the fact such a fear exists is sufficient grounds for urging the ruling parties and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to put forward a set of laws that protects journalists from being prosecuted in instances where they can legitimately prove their claims and where no defamation is involved.

Journalists, who are often underpaid and shown little respect within governmental institutions, can’t afford to fight off libel cases and no public body exists that protects the rights of journalists by giving them access to free legal representation. Instead, when a political party wants to rain down like a tornado on a journalist, they can easily be prosecuted and unfairly imprisoned.

The level of censorship in Kurdistan is becoming embarrassing to defend internationally. It is easy to blog about Kurdish culture and mundane activities within Kurdistan, but when it comes to publishing critical content, it is akin to walking on hot stones. Not long ago the Human Rights Watch organisation published a report ‘Iraqi Kurdistan: Free speech under attack’ which highlighted that officials from the ministries of justice and religious affairs wanted to ‘impose’ a bill that criminalised the insulting of politicians and religious leaders. While at first some might agree that no one deserves to be insulted, in reality making the allegation that a certain politician is linked to a corruption case can be misconstructed to mean ‘insulting’ that politician, and thereby lead to to a libel case.

Kurdistan is a far cry away from journalism that is accountable and free. Striking a balance between protecting the rights of individuals not to be defamed on unlawful grounds and giving journalists sufficient room to freely write without censorship or threats takes more than political party support. Even with the support of political parties, and the necessary legal backing, the general public’s attitude towards the freedom of the press must change. People still perceive some forms of censorship as justifiable because writing about certain topics is ‘shameful’ – in instances where it pertains to the private affairs of certain high-ranking officials.

The only way freedom of the press can be enshrined in Kurdistan is through the governmental institutions respecting journalistic rights and giving them due rights that are protected legally. Laws that are passed but not enforced are insufficient, and all instances of censorship, threatening and imprisonment of journalists falls on the shoulders of the ruling parties – who must be held accountable for violating the rights of journalists.

Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar is a postgraduate international politics student, and has a law degree from Kingston Law School

Copyright © 2014

One Response to Criticism of political parties should be welcomed, not censored
  1. Kuvan Bamarny
    February 8, 2014 | 08:14

    While criticism against rulers is a right that must be recognized but it comes with a cost and a huge price.To uncover the devil hidden behind the secret curtains and and to shed the light of truth in the heart of society , Journalists and free voices must be prepared ,brave and strong enough to endure all type of troubles ,jail,psychological dturture ,sweat, blood and ultimatly the cost of thier life.

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