Kurdish journalist Bahroz Jaafer was arrested on September 22 in Sulaimani, a city in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan, after Iraqi President Barham Salih filed a defamation lawsuit against him.
The arrest has been met with condemnation from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS), who claim that the detention is in violation of Journalism Law No. 35 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Jaafer, who is the head of the Mediterranean Institute for Regional Studies, a writer for the independent news site Peyser Press, and a member of the KJS, was arrested following the publication of an article in which he accused President Salih of corruption during his tenure as the Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister and criticized his lack of action in addressing the problems of Kurds in Iraq.
President Salih’s lawyers filed the lawsuit under Article 433 of the Penal code, a defamation statute, instead of under the Journalism Law, which only allows for fines and not imprisonment, according to the union.
The KJS has stated that Jaafer’s detention is illegal under the Press Law and has called for the case to be decided under that law.
This is not the first time that journalists in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have been subject to arrests, physical attacks, or intimidation.
In June, the IFJ reported that journalists were assaulted and denied access to information while reporting on the COVID-19 situation in the region.
A report by the KJS revealed various press freedom violations in 2019, including arbitrary arrests, attacks by security forces, and physical prevention of reporting.
In December 2019, the KJS organized an international conference on journalism ethics and media regulation in Iraq, which was attended by IFJ leaders, dozens of journalists, trade unionists, and media experts.
The conference provided guidelines for the future of an Iraqi media regulatory body to improve the quality of reporting and media accountability.
They recommended the adoption of a self-regulatory mechanism. IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said:
"This body must be independent, open to the public, with the participation of journalists and employers. No more, no less."
The IFJ is calling on President Salih to immediately drop his lawsuit against Bahroz Jaafer and for him to be freed.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger stated, “Politicians should not make the highlight of their careers as jailers of journalists. We remind the authorities that allowing for establishing a self-regulatory structure is the best way to improve ethical standards and media accountability while safeguarding press freedom and media independence.”