ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Security forces and other unidentified armed men used excessive force and prevented coverage by journalists and film crews from several media outlets during Friday's early voting in the Kurdistan Region election, a media rights watchdog charged later that day.
The Metro Center, a Sulaimani-based journalist rights and advocacy group, logged 15 cases of the use of force against media workers by members of security (Asayish), police, Peshmerga and other unknown individuals.
Metro "strongly condemns the attacks on and obstructions of teams of journalists that took place on the day of the special [early] vote and calls for legal action against the perpetrators," began their report.
In order to free up security force members to provide security for Sunday's regional election, 99 polling centers were opened for them to vote on Friday.
Out of 15 recorded cases included in the report, eight occurred in Sulaimani Province and seven in Erbil. Although reporters have reportedly been harassed in the Kurdistan Region's other two provinces of Duhok and Halabja, Metro has not yet received any direct complaints describing these events.
In one of the five cases the group documented in Sulamani, one outlet claimed security was treating different organizations discriminately, allowing one to cover the early voting process while barring others.
In the Kurdistan Region and Iraq in general, most media organizations are funded by or directly aligned with political parties or their officials. Media workers seen as affiliated to rival or opposition parties have in the past been denied access, had equipment taken or destroyed, been threatened, beaten, or arrested by security forces or guards belonging to another party. In some cases, media outlets or activists have blamed government and party officials for the death of journalists.
In three other cases compiled by the Metro Center, film crews from Kurdistan 24, Westga News, and Speda were denied access to the same voting center, although it is unclear if others were allowed to enter and cover the voting. Complaints were also made in the districts of Ranya and Said Sadiq.
"Sirwan Gharib, Editor in Chief of Westga News, who was attacked by a number of armed members of the Sulaimani Asayish… filed a legal complaint against [the Asayish]," Metro said.
In Erbil Province, one outlet complained of forceful obstruction in the capital city, four more in the district of Koya, one in Sidekan, and another in Soran. Three of the four cases in Koya were at a single voting center.
"The process of media coverage and supervision by domestic and international organizations are among the factors of a clean election, any restrictions and barriers will bring the process under question," Metro stated.
The Kurdistan Journalist's Syndicate, in a three-point letter released on the same day, called on journalists to voice their complaints of ill-treatment to address the issues. It also asked the Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) to prevent cases of aggressive action against members of the press and called on the all security forces to abide by the law and protect media workers.
Editing by John J. Catherine