Crimes against freedom of expression continue in the KRG controlled areas
Kurdishaspect.com - By Dr. Kirmanj Gundi
After the first Gulf War in 1991, and the subsequent establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in some parts of the Iraqi occupied Kurdistan our people found themselves under two blockades, one was imposed by Saddam’s regime against Kurdistan and the other one was enforced by the UN against Iraq.
Our people gallantly challenged the two blockades and with very limited opportunities shouldered the responsibility of rebuilding their devastated Kurdistan. Teachers, doctors, and other professionals dedicated their time and effort to work and help the fragile KRG without expecting anything in return. Many Kurds from Diaspora decided to go back and help their people in the process of rebuilding Kurdistan.
Our fellow Kurdistanis were expecting a democratic establishment based on preserving human rights and promoting human dignity. However, before long, the people of Kurdistan saw their dream of a democratic society drifted away before their eyes. The Kurdish political parties, particularly the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) divided the power between themselves and literally controlled every aspect of the national government including presidency, prime ministership, parliament, police, military, and security forces. Each institution was filled by the KDP and PUK members and loyalists. Parliament became a rubberstamp for ratifying agendas of the two political factions.
To quantify the number of their members, heads of the two main Kurdish political parties allowed the formers Ba’athists, Mostashars, Jashes, and Mokhabarats who were part of the Saddam Hussein’s war machine against our people to join their parties. At the same time they were very skeptical of the Kurdish intellectual community, primarily those who were educated abroad. The Kurdish establishment did not allow these intellectuals to serve their country unless they surrendered themselves either to the PUK or the KDP, which not many Kurdish intellectuals did.
Occasionally, the heads of political parties have been giving lip service to democracy, freedom of expression, and protecting human rights—however, they also have been the only entity that systematically violated the principles of Kurdish human rights and suppressed freedom of expression. They have been using their security forces to monitor people and asphyxiate freedom of speech/expression.
Further, the political factions began campaigns of harassing and even murdering free-spirited journalists. In summer 2008, Sorani Mama Hama was callously murdered before his family for allegedly writing an article about the Barzani family. Nabaz Goran has, occasionally, been harassed and beaten for promoting the Kurdish free press. Other journalists have been threatened for their activities to give a new image to the Kurdish Media.
Although, people of Kurdistan were affronted by the Kurdish authorities’ careless and inhuman treatment against Kurdish journalists, the officials continued to use their repressive methods to silent freedom of expression; and maintained their claim (because the political parties have done so much for “millet,” no one should criticize their policies, and no one should talk about corruption in the areas under their control). By eulogizing their past struggle with the intention to beholden the entire people of Kurdistan, the Kurdish political authorities legitimized the use of “Mukhabarat” system to keep Kurdish activists under a close surveillance. Those who did not bow to them were outcast, threatened, beaten, or murdered.
In recent years, officials of the Kurdish political establishment have been more vocal against the free press in Kurdistan and warned Kurdish journalists not to cross the so-called “red line.” When few brave journalists dared to challenge their autocratic authority and demanded more freedom for people and put an end to nepotism and corruption, which have plagued and paralyzed the nascent Kurdish democracy, the Kurdish authorities reacted by murdering the “free voice” in Kurdistan.
On May 4, 2010, a young journalist, Sardasht Osman, was kidnapped from Salahaddin University—a university that is under the total control of the KDP security forces. KDP even has its party committee at the university to monitor and control student activities—a common practice during the era of Saddam Hussein. Two days later, the body of young Sardasht was found in Mosul, a city known for its high crime rate.
Kidnapping a Kurdish citizen from Kurdistan and taking him to Mosul is not an easy task in the KDP controlled areas since they have numerous watchful and vigilant checkpoints. Therefore, this crime could not have happened without an inside help and collaboration of the KDP officials, particularly since Sardasht had, in one of his recent articles, criticized the Barzani family. (Considering the mentality of Barzani family, perhaps the method Sardasht had used in his writing was a bit out of proportion. Nonetheless, he did not deserve to be humiliated, tortured and later executed).
If the intention of KDP authorities was to silence those who dare to criticize them—well, it will only add more fuel to the fire. No authoritarian institution has ever been able to control the masses; therefore, the heads of Kurdish political parties should be reminded that for more than thirty years Saddam Hussein used the same repressive method, but did not succeed. The Shah of Iran used similar oppressive means, but did not help him. What makes them think that they can get away with such hideous crimes against our innocent fellow Kurds?
Instead of harassing and murdering journalists, it is imperative that the heads of Kurdish political parties get out of the cycle of fear and distrust, and relinquish their repressive policies and respect the integrity of citizens of Kurdistan. They should learn from Saddam and other dictators that the only way to be respected is to respect the will of people and adhere to the principles of democracy. They must preserve the dignity of our people who have sacrificed so much to achieve such a day. This freedom belongs to the people of Kurdistan—the Kurdish political parties cannot take it away from them.
Finally, kidnapping a young journalist from Hawler and murdering him in Mosul is disgrace and insult to every aspect of Kurdish integrity. Therefore, such an inhumane practice of harassing and murdering people must come to an end. Taking a Kurdish citizen to and murdering him in areas outside of the KRG administration cannot veil the tag of their repugnant crime.
Kirmanj Gundi is a professor of Educational Administration and Leadership at Tennessee State University.