Sardasht Uthman's murder, one year on - By Shwan Zulal

Today Kurdistan remembers the brutal killing of Sardasht Uthman, a 23-year-old Kurdish journalist and student, from Erbil, kidnapped in front of Salahaddin University in Erbil. His body was later found near Mosul, with signs of torture and a gunshot to his head.

President Barzani set up an opaque committee to investigate his murder and their findings were dismissed as it was only based on hearsay evidence. The committee not only failed to investigate his murder properly, but they tried to disgrace Sardasht's memories too. The committee concluded its investigation in a report, which was only 400 words and portrayed Sardasht as an Islamic extremist. They said that Ansar Al-Isalm (Islamic fundamentalist Group) killed him because he refused to cooperate with them. The investigative body has even managed to find a car mechanic, the only witness, confessing to the student's abduction, meanwhile, Ansar Al-Islam has denied any involvement in his murder.

None of the findings in the report were substantiated and the evidence was only based on Hisham Mahmud, the kidnapper's (Car Mechanic) confession. The report was so thin on details, it is hard to imagine, if the President's committee have done any investigation at all. Furthermore; Sardasht's family and campaigners for justice dismissed the report, because its findings completely contradicted Sardasht's dispositions and the circumstantial evidence.

Sardasht's death has provoked countless young people and speared them into action. Many pressure groups have been formed and an enormous pressure has been applied on the Kurdish government, to make sure they do more to protect journalists and freedom of speech. Amenity International and Reporters Without Borders among other organization have condemned his killing. Sardasht is not the only journalist to die in this manner as others in Kurdistan and Iraq have perished too.

There have been many speculations about the motives and identity of Sardasht's killers, but so far, they are at large. Many believe that his murder was due to the fact that he has written critical articles about the Kurdish Government and KDP leadership among them a piece entitled, "If only I were Mas'ud Barzani's son-in-law". He was talking about nepotism and the dysfunctional nature of Kurdistan Region's political system.

Remembering Sardasht's death this year, brings to focus the recent violations against journalists and media outlets in Kurdistan and Iraq as a whole. The levels of violence against journalists have peaked since 17 February, when protests have erupted in Kurdistan as people took to the streets demanding the fall of government. These latest violations have been well documented by Amnesty international, as reporters and journalists have been arrested, beaten and threaten by militiamen and security forces.

Only yesterday, gunmen in Erbil attacked Ruber newspaper offices and their Chief Editor, Ibrahim Abbas, told a press conference that unidentified gunmen forced their way into their premises confiscating equipment and insulting staff.

Attempts by the authorities to maim Sardasht's memory and silence other outspoken voices in Kurdistan have failed miserably. The voices have only grown louder and more defiant as Sardasht's memory lives on. The politicians in Kurdistan including the leaders must understand that failing to protect Journalists and attempting to silence them will only be at their peril. The new generation cannot be intimidated, and any attempt to take their freedoms away would make them even more resolute.


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May 4, 2011
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