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Kurdistan Does Better Than Iraq Investigating Journalists’ Killings

Kewa Germayani (Pic IFJ)

Autonomous regions within States are sometimes more progressive in enforcing the rule of law in comparison with the States themselves. An example is the contrast between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and the national government of Iraq in dealing with infringements on freedom of the media.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was carved out of Iraq in the 1970s after years of bitter fighting between the Kurds and the Arab-dominated Iraq. It has remained autonomous despite being under attack by Iraqi governments, most notably President Saddam Hussein.
On December 5, Kewa Germayani, editor of the magazine ‘Reyal’ was shot dead in front of his home at Kalar in the KRI. According to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF), he had written extensively on corruption in the KRI and under threat. 

 Following his killing – the third in five years in KRI – RSF said, “We are worried about the very dangerous climate for journalists both in Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, and about the impunity enjoyed by their attackers and killers. We urge the regional and national authorities to take the appropriate measures so that journalists can work without fearing for their safety or their lives.”
Its concern was taken up by other international media freedom monitors including the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). On December 6, IFJ wrote to KRI President Massoud Barazani: “We ask your government to carry out a thorough investigation into this and other cases of journalists’ killings and ensure that truth and justice are served in the interests of lasting rule of law and respect for human rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.”
Surprisingly, Barazani’s government agreed to appoint a committee to monitor investigations into the murder of Germayani.  IFJsaid, “The committee is headed by the legal advisor of the prime minister and five other members representing the Kurdistan Journalists’ Syndicate, the ministry of the interior, the security forces, the local government and local press freedom NGO, Metro Centre.”
IFJ welcomed the move with its president, Jim Boumelha, writing, “[w]e welcome this hugely positive move which sends the right message that murdering journalists in the region will not go unpunished.”
While we do not know whether the committee will live up to the ideals of a fair and free inquiry, its response is a contrast to the Government of Iraq’s on a similar issue.

Nawras al Nouaymi (Pic RSF)

For instance, there has been a spate of killings mostly in Mosul starting October. The latest was December 15, where a 19-year-old TV presenter Nawras al Nouaymi was shot near her home. Nouayami was a student at Mosul University’s media faculty and a presenter for Al-Mosuliya for the past five years.
“The continuing violence and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible constitute a major threat to freedom of information,” said RSFin a pres release.
The lack of investigation and prosecution of perpetrators is quite obvious when we see four earlier shooting deaths have not been seriously investigated: Alaa Edwar, a cameraman with local TV station ‘Nineveh Al-Ghad,’ (killed November 24) ‘Al-Mosuliya’ cameraman Bashar Al-Nouaymi, (killed October 24) and ‘Al-Sharqiya’ TV’s reporter Mohamed Karim Al-Badrani and cameraman Mohamed Al-Ghanem (killed October 5).
Human Rights Watch commented on impunity enjoyed by killers of journalists in a post soon after the gunning down of Alaa Edwar. It said, “The killings in Mosul have made October and November the deadliest two-month period this year for journalists. Iraqi authorities have released no information about the results of any pending investigations into the killings, nor announced any arrests.”
“A local judge told Human Rights Watch that local security forces ‘would not seriously investigate’ the killings, and a representative of a local rights organisation said that authorities would not investigate unless the victims’ families initiated complaints, which they are afraid to do.

“‘Iraqi authorities give lip service to investigating these assassinations, but can’t even be bothered to interview the witnesses.’ Whitson said. ‘They have not made a single arrest, or filed a single charge, against gunmen running around killing journalists in broad daylight,'” notes the HRW article. (Sarah Leah Whitson is Middle East director, HRW.)

There is no doubt media freedom is endangered in KRI where three journalists have been killed in five years. Despite these shortcomings, KRI, which is a non-State entity, nor is answerable to the Iraqi government, clearly appears more forthcoming in upholding media freedom than a State body recognised as such by the international community and by international law.  

Iraqi Photographer Released After 17 Months

On February 10th, Iraqi freelance photographer Ibrahim Jassam was finally released by US military forces after being detained for 17 months without charge.

Jassam, who regularly contributed photos and video to Reuters news agency, was detained in September 2008 during raid on his home in Mahmudiya, a town 30 miles south of Baghdad, an area which experienced high levels of insurgent activity at that time.

Press freedom organizations have been critical of the journalist’s captivity. Reporters Without Borders declared that Jassam’s release was “excellent news” but also stated that it was dissatisfied by the fact that the military did not give any reasons for his arrest. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), who have documented 14 cases where journalists have been held by US Forces for extended periods without charge, responded by calling on the US Government “to ensure that this release marks the end of its policy of open-ended detentions of journalists.”

The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) cleared Jassam back in November 2008, on the basis that there was no evidence against him. However, US military authorities continued to hold him after the judgment. Lt. Col. Pat Johnson, a Pentagon spokesperson for the U.S. Forces in Iraq, responded the Court’s decision did “not negate the intelligence information” that listed him as a threat to Iraqi security and stability. The intelligence information implicating Jassam was not shared with the CCCI.

On the day of his release, Lt. Col. Johnson once again stated that Jassam was detained due to “activity with an insurgent organization.” Johnson reiterated that there was intelligence evidence against him but gave no indication of what the evidence was.

David Schlesinger, Editor in Chief at Reuters, deplored the lack of process surrounding Jassam’s incarceration claiming that it meant that the journalist was not given the right to defend himself properly.

Jassam was detained under war-time rules for detention, before the U.S.- Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) took effect in January 2009. As a result, US forces have claimed that they are “not bound” to adhere to the processes of the CCCI in the case against Jassam.

This interpretation of U.S. Forces remit is disputed by Thomas Kim, Deputy General Counsel at Thomson Reuters, who argues that the way that the US military has dealt with Jassam’s case is not consistent with the Rule of Law or the spirit of the SOFA. Article 3 of the Status of Forces Agreement puts a duty on the US forces not to act in a way that is inconsistent with the “letter and spirit of the agreement.” The purpose of the agreement is to allow Iraq to re-establish its sovereignty while keeping the country stable and free from terrorism. It can be argued that the US military forces unwillingness to follow Iraqi court procedure contradicts the sovereignty aim of this agreement.

Jassam’s case and other similar cases potentially cast a shadow over the U.S.A.’s human rights record in conflict zones. Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, expressed during Jassam’s imprisonment that these instances “undermine the ability of the U.S. government to effectively advocate for press freedom around the world.”

Photo Credit: AP

Americans Captured at Iranian Border

Their timing could not have been worse. Three American hikers found themselves in Iranian territory while the country was continuing its clampdown on the international community in response to the deadly post-election protests.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 30, and Joshua Fattal, 27 were visiting the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya when they were arrested for crossing the Iraqi border into Iran. Shane Bauer is a journalist who has written for The Nation, Christian Science Monitor,, and has an article in this month’s Mother Jones magazine.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that all three of the hikers had interests in writing and photography although the reason for this hike was purely sightseeing.

“There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan,” said their friend, Shon Meckfessel, who stayed behind on that day’s hike to recover from a cold. He said the spot they picked to hike was highly recommended by the locals they consulted and they had no idea it would lead them near the border.

The U.S. has stepped in to seek the release of the three, after over a week of just trying to confirm they were in fact in Iranian custody. Since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq has pleaded on behalf of the United States for the prisoners’ release.

Shane Bauer, the freelance journalist, speaks Arabic and has been based in the Middle East and Northern Africa for six years. You can see a sampling of his work on his webpage.

Photo Credit: AFP