On Kurdish Press Day: Contradictory Messages by KRG Premier and his Deputy about Freedom of Expression

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By KirkukNow

While the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government KRG, spoke proudly about the “complete freedom” that journalists enjoy in carrying out their message without censorship and restrictions in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR, his deputy, sees that there are problems and holds the KRG responsible for addressing them.

The two conflicting trends came in two separate statements on Monday, April 22, on the 126th anniversary of Kurdish Press Day.

PM Masrour Barzani said, “We are pleased to express our pride and pride in the complete freedom that Kurdistan’s media professionals enjoy in Kurdistan region, in carrying out their message without censorship and restrictions, as they enjoy absolute freedom to criticize and diagnose any transgression, shortcomings, or negligence in government performance.”

"The government will remain a permanent support and assistance to journalists and workers in the field of media, enabling us to develop Kurdistan to broader horizons of progress in various fields."

However, Qubad Talabani, the Deputy Prime Minister of the KRG, believes that there are problems and shortcomings, and that “it is the duty of the government and the political authority to address the problems and shortcomings that obstruct the freedom of journalistic work, and to fully implement press and access to information laws,” indicating the necessity of “making a change in the pattern of how security forces deal with journalists.

It is the duty of the government and the political authority to address the problems and shortcomings that obstruct the freedom of journalistic work

This comes at a time when the KRG was formed in an alliance that included three parties: The Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, and the Gorran (Change) Movement. Both Masrour Barzani and Qubad Talabani represent their parties in the government, and both always stress freedom of expression.

Messages from regional government officials on Kurdish Press Day come at a time when there are still violations against journalists, such as arrests, torture, preventing them from media coverage of public events, and confiscating their equipment.

According to statistics from the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, in 2023, 62 violations were recorded against journalists in the IKR, while the Metro Center for Defending Journalists’ Rights indicated that there were 249 violations against journalists in the same year.

As for the Rights and Development of Reporters Organization, based in the city of Erbil, it indicated in its report for the year 2023, which it published last February, that 164 violations were recorded against 328 journalists and media institutions, 78 cases in Erbil Province, capital of the IKR.

The journalistic work environment, based on statistics, is not a healthy environment. The past decade witnessed four cases of killing of journalists, the perpetrators of which went unpunished, and a number of journalists were tried after being accused of “espionage and rioting.”


A protest demonstration to put an end to impunity for the murderers of the freelance journalist Sardasht Othman.

For his part, Nechirvan Barzani, Iraqi Kurdistan Region President IKRP, said in a congratulatory message on the occasion, “I emphasize securing the appropriate environment and atmosphere for media work, providing facilities for journalists to access sources of information without discrimination, and avoiding imposing restrictions and obstacles on them.”

Journalist Amanj Khalil, editor-in-chief of the MIC website - based in Sulaymaniyah - said, “The claims of regional officials regarding freedom of journalistic work are false, because they are the ones who are harboring the killers of the four journalists who were assassinated and have not solved their cases.”

“The stain of disgrace on the authority will not be erased by statements issued by Sari Rash and Dabashan,” referring to the letters of Masrour Barzani and Qubad Talabani.

The stain of disgrace on the authority will not be erased by statements issued by Sari Rash and Dabashan

In another message at the Erbil International Journalism Forum, which was held on Monday, April 22, Mashroor Barzani said, “The enemies of the Kurdistan Region are constantly trying to abuse the freedom that is unparalleled in the region, with the aim of attacking the principles of democracy and the entity of the Kurdistan Region under the guise of journalistic work.”

Barzani's statements come at a time when, on February 16, 2021, the Erbil Criminal Court issued a six-year prison sentence against two journalists and four activists after they were accused of "espionage and attempted coup." The two journalists were Sherwan Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, the latter of whom was released after completing his sentence.

While the KRG officials stress freedom of media work and freedom of expression, they are accused of involvement in violations against journalists, especially for not implementing the Right to Access to Information Law.

In August 2022, Surkew Muhammad, editor-in-chief of the Pergraph website, filed three lawsuits against the IKRP, KRG PM Barzani, and the Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, Rewas Faiq, on charges of withholding information and not implementing the law.

“We registered the cases in Sulaymaniyah. The registered lawsuits against the president of the region and the head of the government were referred to Erbil, and after several sessions, the judge dismissed the lawsuits with false arguments Muhammad told KirkukNow.

“One of the arguments is that I should not request information through a notary.” He explained that it was the only way for him to get information.

Regarding the lawsuit registered against the Speaker of Parliament, editor-in-chief of Pergraph said, “I won the lawsuit, but they appealed the verdict, and after cassation, the Parliament of Kurdistan was dissolved by the decision of the Iraqi Federal Court, so the judge decided to stop looking into the case until a new person assumed the presidency of the Parliament, due to the fact that status of Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament no longer exists."

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