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Beirut, May 21, 2024 — Iraqi Kurdish authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Shakar Star and allow all members of the media to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On the evening of Saturday, May 18, Iraqi Kurdistan Asayish security forces arrested Star, a presenter at local media agency Tiwar News, while he traveled from the eastern city of Sulaymaniyah with his wife and two children at a checkpoint near Koysinjaq city in Erbil province, according to his outlet and an Asayish statement. The Asayish security forces seized Star’s car and took the journalist to their headquarters in Sulaymaniyah.

The Kurdistan Region Security Agency said Star was charged with preparing and presenting “false and misleading news reports” on an informal social media page that incited chaos and terror. If convicted of insulting government officials and public authorities, Star faces up to seven years in prison or an unspecified fine.

The Asayish forces are the primary security and intelligence agency in Iraqi Kurdistan, and its forces are significantly influenced by the two main Kurdish political parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Koysinjaq is the only district in Erbil province that is under PUK control and is secured by its Asayish forces.

Asayish security forces have detained, raided, and harassed dozens of journalists in the last three years.

“Iraqi Kurdish authorities have made a habit out of jailing journalists critical of the ruling parties, and the practice must end,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Iraqi Kurdish authorities must immediately release journalist Shakar Star and all others imprisoned.”

Rebaz Abdullah, head of Tiwar News, told CPJ via messaging app that he thinks Star’s arrest stems from a series of four news reports published in April and May on Tiwar News’ social media titled “Welcome to the Emirate of Smuggling [Sulaymaniyah], which documented information about the smuggling of gold, U.S. dollars, weapons, drugs, and human trafficking, and implicated Sulaymaniyah security forces.

Tiwar News issued a Sunday statement saying Star had not received a formal arrest warrant, only a verbal summons, which they “viewed as a threat rather than a legal action.” The statement also said Star only presented the reports, which were written by a team of professional editors.

“Star only read them; he didn’t write them,” Abdullah told CPJ.

Reached by phone, Salam Abdulkhaliq, spokesperson of the Kurdistan Region Security Agency, told CPJ, “I have nothing more [to say] than the statement.” CPJ called Saadi Ahmed Pira, a PUK party spokesperson, for comment but received no response.


This content originally appeared on Committee to Protect Journalists and was authored by Committee to Protect Journalists.

Citations

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