May 9, 2011
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Kurdish Minister threatening Journalists & leaders use Libel laws to silence them - By Shwan Zulal

In recent years, the political classes in Kurdistan Region have struggled to come to terms with exposure to media spotlights and being criticised by them. They find it difficult to cope with criticism especially if it is coming from media organisations, which does not belong to their political parties or on their payrolls. 

Last week it emerged that Jalal Talabni (Iraqi President and PUK leader) and Mas'ud Barzani (Kurdistan Region President and KDP leader), have lodged a libel case against a privately owned, Lvin Magazine. The defamation action was brought in connection to a report publish by the magazine, accusing the leadership of PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) of plotting to assassinate the leaders of the main three opposition parties in Kurdish parliament.

Lvin said that it will defend itself vigorously and the story they have published has a reliable source, nevertheless the source have not yet been revealed and unlikely to be in the future. In response to the court action, Lvin magazine has dropped a bombshell by revealing that on 25 April this year, Shekh Jaffar, Kurdistan Region Peshmerga Minister, have threatened to kill the magazine's editor-in-Chief, Ahamad Mira.  Metro Centre have published excerpt from the recordings, reading: "I will make him understand, Ahmad Mira and I... tell him not only, he will not get away with it but I swear on my Honour, if all the Kurds unite I will not leave him alone".

Although the minister denies the allegations and says:"They have recorded my voice... and I have not threatened to kill him (Ahmad Mira) or anyone". The magazine says that it has a recording of his voice while he is making threats against the editor. Other media organizations have also heard the tape including metro Centre, and confirmed the recordings, reported Hawlati newspaper.

Lvin issued a statement saying, after the minister made the threats, the leader of Kurdistan Regional Government has been informed, nevertheless, "the government has failed to take any realistic steps to investigate the matter and take any action against the minister".

It is apparent that the magazine has exercised restraint by not publishing the materials and sought help from the government but did not get any. However, after Talabni and Barzani decided to pursue them in the courts for publishing the report about the assassination plot, the magazine have decided to go public and retaliate by making the minister's threatening phone call public.

Livn staff has come under attack and been humiliated by the authorities many time. During the recent demonstrations in Kurdistan, many of its journalists among others were subjected to arrest and beatings while their equipments were confiscated. In 2008 one of its investigative journalist, Soran mama Hama was killed and his killers are still at large. All the violations against journalist in Kurdistan is well documented by Amnesty International and other independent organisations.

Only excerpts of the recording have been published and the recording itself is not yet being made public. It remains to be seen whether the magazine want to strike a deal with the incumbents on the court proceedings or they are awaiting action by the government against the minister.

PUK and the government have so far stayed silent on the matter and the minister in question has kept his office. It is hard to imagine that Jaffar would be pushed, as he has been subject of a vote of confidence in parliament recently because his forces shot at protesters and won. Furthermore; Jaffar is PUK politburo member and there is no precedent for sacking any such members for threatening journalist or anyone else.

It is Ironic that Kurdistan Region has one of the best drafter and most effective libel laws in the region. This law is one of the only few laws that have been implemented by the authorities. Whilst it is possible to have laws protecting political elite from defamation, it is needless to say, there are no such effective laws to enable the courts to prosecute ministers' threatening to kill journalists or security forces who shoot randomly at unarmed protesters.


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