Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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.  IFJ said, “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 RSF in 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.  

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