Freedom of the press is unconditionally respected in Kurdistan Region: KRG Coordinator office

The KRG’s OCIA noted that it is “important to note that media freedoms in the Kurdistan Region are unconditionally respected and endorsed.”
Dr. Dindar Zebari, KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy  (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Dr. Dindar Zebari, KRG Coordinator for International Advocacy (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Office of the Coordinator for International Advocacy (OCIA) issued a statement on Wednesday in  response to the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy report. The OCIA coordinator said that freedom of the press in the Kurdistan Region is unconditionally respected and endorsed.”

On Monday, January 16, 2023, the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, released their annual report on the status of the media in 2022.

Read More: 431 violations were recorded against journalists in the Kurdistan region last year: the Metro Center

The Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy said that 431 violations were committed against 301 journalists and media outlets last year. 

The violations included 26 physical assaults, four verbal attacks, 46 physical threats, two rocket attacks, three home invasions, six cyber-attacks, 16 cases of coerced signing of undertakings, 64 unwarranted arrests, 195 reports on blocked coverage, 68 reports on confiscating and damaging press equipment, and a single report on shutting down a TV channel, per the announcement.

Moreover, it said that no security agency other than the police may summon journalists, in accordance with a court order.

KRG’s OCIA said  a response was necessary to offset the findings of the Metro Center report. 

Read More: KRG Coordinator underlines KRG commitment to human rights at Geneva committee

“There are 8,000 journalists registered in the Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate. There are at least 1,000 individuals who are practicing journalism without membership of the syndicate.”

“In the past 20 years, 1,262 digital and press media obtained licenses: 50 websites, 138 radio stations, 958 newspapers and magazines, 31 satellite channels, and 85 local broadcast stations. Taking this figure into consideration, we can infer that out of every 778 citizens of the Kurdistan Region, one of them is a journalist. Moreover, every group of 4,901 citizens is equivalent to one electronic or press media,” the office said.

The KRG’s OCIA also said that KRG law-enforcement agencies are obliged to execute judicial orders. “As a matter of fact, judicial warrants are the prerequisites to carrying out arrests and detentions. No exceptions are allowed and no extra-judicial arrests have been recorded.”

Moreover, the office said that according to Law No 23 (2007), the judiciary in the Kurdistan Region commenced its work independently, without interference from the executive and legislative branches. 

“This authority operates within a robust checks-and-balance system and is free from political interference. There are four presidencies of the Court of Appeals, which are subordinate to the Judicial Council in terms of administration and finance, and are independent in relation to the decisions they make in accordance with the applicable laws in the Kurdistan Region.”

Moreover, the Metro Center in its report raises concerns about utilizing laws other than Press Law No 35 (2007) for journalism-related cases and also said judges should be appointed specifically to deal with media issues.

“It is evident that the judicial authority retains the exclusive authority to discern the relevant laws from the irrelevant ones and to apply them in the right judicial contexts. Although it is for the judicial authority to elucidate the applications of the laws in the court, the Press Law is active and is enforced,” the KRG office said in response. 

“The KRG abides by international standards of human rights, especially in terms of protecting media freedoms. In this respect, the right to freedom of expression and the press are thoroughly addressed in the Regional Plan for Human Rights - an inclusive framework to consolidate legislative and executive amendments,” the KRG’s OCIA said. 

Moreover, the OCIA said to enrich the process, OCIA will soon issue regulations to be circulated across KRG institutions to speed-up the implementation of the Regional Plan for Human Rights. 

“As far as freedom of expression is concerned, changes will be made through activating the mechanism of accountability when there are allegations related to violations of freedom of expression, accelerating the process of providing information, and speeding-up the initial process of resolving cases related to journalism,” the OCIA concluded.

Dr. Dindar Zebari on Tuesday stated that he met with representatives from Journalists Organizations for Rights and Development and stressed KRG’s mission to support the media. 

But he stressed that reports “about alleged human rights violations should include KRG’s responses to balance the accuracy of their findings.”