Kurdistan government threatens TV channel with sanctions

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region to refrain from any further pressure on the Kurdish TV channel NRT to stop supporting protests against the curfew declared by the government as part of its measures to combat Covid-19.

The culture ministry has just issued the Kurdistan Regional Government’s second warning to NRT, whose owner, Shaswar Abdulwahid, is the founder of the opposition New Generation party and has been backing the anti-government demonstrations of the past few weeks.

“Your TV channel has gone in the terrible direction of encouraging people to rebel against the protection directives, which violates the curfew orders and creates doubt about the existence of the coronavirus pandemic, “ the culture ministry’s warning.

In the first warning, issued on 5 April, the health ministry asked the interior ministry to adopt “strict legal measures against NRT, including its closure and prosecution” for broadcasting a report suggesting that the authorities had exaggerated the number of Covid-19 cases in order to deter people from protesting.

“The Iraqi Kurdish authorities must stop pressuring NRT TV and must stop using Covid-19 as a pretext for imposing sanctions,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “Preventing a media outlet from doing its job to provide information on the grounds of its support for a rival political party constitutes obstruction of media pluralism.”

When reached by RSF, NRT said it was working normally and had ignored the warning.

Several Kurdish cities have seen repeated anti-government demonstrations, above all in protest against delays in the payment of salaries to state employees.

Security forces have attacked NRT crews on several occasions during these demonstrations. In Sulaymaniyah on 2 June, reporter Ehsan Sabir and his cameraman Mohammed Hassan received several blows that left marks on Sabir’s back and Hassan’s leg got harm. In Koya on 5 June, a reporter and cameraman were interrupted during a live broadcast, and the police then opened fire.

Iraq is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.