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Press freedom is under threat in Kurdistan Region: three watchdogs

  2021-02-26  | 
 Zhyan News Network
 Zhyan News Network

SULAIMANI —Three international organizations working for journalist advocacy voice concerns about deteriorating state of freedom of press and expression in the Kurdistan Region.

On February 16, the Branch 2 of Erbil’s Criminal Court sentenced five journalists and activists to six in prison for charges amounting to undermining national security  after they had been in jails for months since last year.

“The Court ruling… has led to grave concerns regarding the room for open public debate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” the watchdogs said. “Independent journalism contributes to constructive public debate.”

“Respect for the rule of law and for the right of people to freedom of expression are crucial elements of vibrant, functioning states.”

Journalists and activists fear the court verdict will leave a bad impact on the work of journalists in the Kurdistan Region.

“The aim behind the ruling is not only to punish these five persons, but rather to send a message to all journalists and activists that they will from now on be referred to the courts for writing a comment,” Freelance Journalist Maaz Farhan said. 

“Open public debate in which critical views can be exchanged without fear of persecution are signs of strong and healthy governments. Overreach of legal powers will instead lead to decreasing appetite among people to engage in public debate,” the watchdogs said.

Over a a score of journalists, activists and political opposition figures are held in jails under the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)  jurisdiction in Duhok governorate without charge or trial for periods ranging from several weeks to a year.

“We strongly hope that the Kurdish authorities will choose to support the important role of journalists in contributing to the society in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq at this pivotal moment.”

(Zhyan English)