Journalist arrested in Sulaimani after complaint filed by Iraqi President's office
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In response to a defamation complaint issued by the office of Iraqi President Barham Salih, police in the Kurdistan Region's city of Sulaimani arrested writer and journalist Bahroz Jaafer on Tuesday.
Jaafer, head of the Mediterranean Institute for Regional Studies and a member of the Kirkuk branch of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, was arrested for writing an article entitled, "How long will the President of the Republic lead on the wrong side?" in which he claims, among other accusations, that $6 million in government oil funds went missing during Salih’s term as the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) between 2010 to 2012.
The spokesperson for Sulaimani police confirmed the arrest saying that "Bahroz Jaafer was arrested by the police force in Sulaimani city after the Deputy of the Iraqi President filed a legal complaint against him."
This comes just one day after a Kurdistan 24 team said its members were assaulted by federal police in Kirkuk province while covering a land dispute between Kurdish farmers and a group of ethnic Arab Iraqis.
According to a statement by the Sulaimani-based Metro Center for Defending Journalists’ Rights, Jaafer told a small group that visited him in jail that a lawyer from President Salih's office had filed a case against him, causing him to be arrested and held for eight days.
The statement added that KRG security authorities took the action under the Iraqi Penal Code instead of the KRG's 2007 Press Law, which allows only for fines in such cases, not imprisonment.
Observers like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly pointed out that the practice of arresting journalists based on charges of defamation – a civil action, not a criminal proceeding – is in stark contravention of international standards and law. In such cases like Jafaar's, where only a complaint by one party has been made and no judgement has even been handed down yet, such arrests are even more questionable.
Human rights and press freedom watchdogs have long charged that both federal and regional officials use government security services to arrest or otherwise violate the rights of media workers and organizations that publish material critical of them.
Just last week, the Metro Center called on authorities and international organizations to protect workers of the Dijlah media group "who fled to the cities of the [Kurdistan] Region, especially Erbil and Sulaimani, after receiving assassination threats," after the station aired programming that many Shia Muslims deemed offensive as members of the sect marked commemorations of the annual religious rite known as Ashura.
Dozens of people stormed Dijlah TV's Baghdad headquarters on Aug. 31, setting it on fire after continuing to broadcast music on the day leading up to the Ashura rituals. The incident took place hours after a court ordered the arrest of the channel's owner, Jamal Karbouli, a politician and businessman.
The Metro Center was established in 2009 by a group of journalists and human rights advocates, supported by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The organization aims to monitor free press throughout the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by John J. Catherine