End the Assault on Free Speech in Iraqi Kurdistan

kurdish flag

Target: Kurdistan Regional Government

Goal: End the arbitrary arrests and detainment of individuals who voice criticism against figures associated with the Kurdistan Regional Government

Officials in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)—specifically, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs—have enforced a proposed law that has criminalized any “insult” against the country’s political and religious elite. The Asayish, or Kurdistan Security Agency, have arrested and detained journalists who have published critical pieces against the KRG— without warrant, formal charges, or any judicial hearing. The unlawful arrests do not only violate basic free speech guarantees protected under Kurdish and international law, but they also cast a chilling effect on the free flow of information and ideas necessary to maintain any healthy democracy.

Although the arrests are a blatant violation of Kurdish civil rights, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs have continued to harass and detain any journalist or political activist who has been critical of the state. At least fifty journalists, political activists, and other critics of the KRG have been arrested or detained by authorities during 2012 for voicing criticism against religious or secular leaders. For example, Akram Abdulkarim, a former customs official, was imprisoned for more than a year without any trial on national security charges. The arrest occurred after Abdulkarim  accused the Kurdistan Democratic Party—one of the two coalition parties that govern the region—of pocketing customs revenues.

Although legal and civil rights committees in the Kurdish Parliament have helped block the enactment of the Ministry of Justice’s proposed sedition law, the arbitrary imprisonment of journalists and political activists still violates KRG law. Article 2 of the Kurdistan Press Law protects the right of journalists to “obtain information of importance to citizens and relevant to the public interest from diverse sources.” Furthermore, the law goes on to state that a journalist cannot be charged with defamation if he or she “has published or written about the work of an official or person entrusted with a public service…if what he has published does not go beyond the affairs of the profession.” Although ambiguously worded, the law guarantees a certain level of freedom of speech for both domestic and foreign journalists.

The Kurdish government must abide by the Press Law of 2007 and stop the harassment of journalists, political activists, and others who have been critical of the Kurdish government. Furthermore, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes freedom of speech as a fundamental human right. Civil Rights abuses do not promote democratic participation, nor bring political discourse forward. Help end the arbitrary detainment of Kurdish journalists and political activists by demanding that the KRG adhere to both domestic and international law.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear President Massoud Barzani:

The Asayish have arrested various journalists, political activists, and others who have voiced criticism against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) during recent years. Officials in the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs have enforced a proposed law that criminalizes any “insult” hailed against any secular or political figure. These individuals are often detained for months, even years without any warrant, formal charges, nor judicial hearing. The arbitrary nature of these arrests violates basic freedom of speech guarantees, threatening the very preservation and essence of KRG’s democracy.

Urge the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs to end the harassment of journalists, political activists, and others who have voiced similar criticism of the KRG. The unlawful arrests and detainment of those exercising their freedom of speech violate Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Kurdish Press Law of 2007.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

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  • James Thrailkill
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