Iraqi Kurdistan: Journalist arrested over defamation allegations

Journalist Bahroz Jaafer was arrested on 22 September after Iraqi president Barham Salih filed a defamation lawsuit against him. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS) in condemning the detention as an illegal act according to Journalism Law No 35 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Iraqi president Barham Salih Credits: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

Jaafer was arrested at a police station in Sulaimani, a city in the east of Iraqi Kurdistan, and authorities plan to keep him in jail for eight days until the beginning of his trial. Jaafer is the head of the Mediterranean Institute for Regional Studies, writes for the independent news site Peyser Press and is a member of the KJS. The KJS has been fighting for his release but he was still being detained at the time of publication of this statement on 29 September.

The lawsuit came after Jaafer wrote an article in which he accused president Salih of corruption during his time as the Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister and condemned his lack of action in addressing the problems of Kurds in Iraq.

President Salih’s lawyers filed the lawsuit under Article 433 of the Penal code, a defamation statute, instead of under the Journalism Law, which only allows for fines and not imprisonment, according to the union. The KJS says that Jaafer’s detention is illegal under the Press Law and have called for the case to be decided under that law.

Arrests, physical attacks or intimidation of journalists repeatedly occur in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and erode press freedom. In June, the IFJ reported that journalists were assaulted and denied access to information when reporting on the Covid-19 situation in the region. A report by the KJS revealed various press freedom violations in 2019. Journalists faced arbitrary arrests, were attacked by security forces or were physically prevented from reporting.

In December 2019, the KJS organized an international conference on journalism ethics and media regulation in Iraq. IFJ leaders, dozens of journalists, trade unionists and media experts participated in the conference, providing guidelines for the future of an Iraqi media regulatory body to improve the quality of reporting and media accountability. They recommended the adoption of a self-regulatory mechanism. IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "This body must be independent, open to the public, with the participation of journalists and employers. No more, no less."

The IFJ is calling on president Salih to immediately drop his lawsuit against Bahroz Jaafer, so he can be freed. "Politicians should not make the highlight of their careers as jailers of journalists,"  IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said. "We remind the authorities that allowing for establishing a self-regulatory structure is the best way to improve ethical standards and media accountability while safeguarding press freedom and media independence."

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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