New fear tactics to silence Iraqi journalists: HRW

Iraq journalists threatened with attacks, death


After having overcome various intimidation tactics, Journalists who report on political corruption and social unrest in Iraq’s Kurdish north are now being threatened that their children would be targeted if they do not keep silent, a Human Right Watch reporter said.

Samer Muscati said journalists in northern Iraq are being threatened that their children would be targets of unidentified attacks after previous threats were deemed not effective in silencing journalists.

Muscati said journalists who cover demonstrations and political corruption receive such threats through mobile text messages or phone calls by unidentified parties asking them to refrain from reporting on protests taking place in Kurdistan or face death or expose their children to possible attacks.

“Many times, they do not know where the messages, calls are coming from. It is very easy to get SIM cards that are not registered, and it is not clear who (is contacting them),“ he said.

Asked if journalists in the Kurdish region suspect any parties who might possibly be sending them those threats, Muscati said they are worried of consequences if their report any suspects.

“During protests, it is difficult to know who is attacking because there are different factions such as Peshmerga, Asayish, police, men in military uniform that do not have identifications,” he said.

While Asayish is a Kurdish organization that operates primary as an intelligence agency, the Peshmerga consists of Kurdish fighters who fought along the United States in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.

Govt links

Muscati said there have been suspected links of those threats to the regional Kurdish government despite the absence of clear evidence so far.

Popular anger against government suppression in Iraq’s Kurdish region intensified after the killing of a young journalist, Sardasht Osman, 22, in May 2010.

After reporting on suspected corruption cases among Iraqi Kurdish leaders, Osman received threats from the authorities before was found dead.

President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barazani ordered a probe into Osman’s killing, but the “investigation was lacking credibility,” Muscati said.

Human Rights Watch previously documented cases where both journalists and protesters were attacked by security forces during protests.

“In Sulaymaniya we saw masked men burn down tents of protesters. In Baghdad, Some people who were camping in tents in Tahrir Square were stabbed by men wearing security uniforms and who seemed to be working in coordination with security forces,” he said.

During Iraq’s ‘Day of Rage’ on February 25, more than 12 people were killed during protests.

Muscati said while some protesters sometimes resort to violent act, this should not be used by the government as an excuse to use excessive force in clamping down on everyone, including those demonstrating peacefully.

(Edited by Mustapha Ajbaili)