Ayoub Warty, the Erbil correspondent for the Kurdish News Network (KNN), was detained for ten hours on July 18 in a police station in Erbil due to a lawsuit filed against him by a local doctor.
The arrest was a result of a report Warty published on KNN entitled “The Story of the Two Sisters Victims of a Plastic Surgeon,” in which the doctor was accused of sexually assaulting two sisters following rhinoplasty surgery.
The doctor filed a complaint against Warty for using footage of his clinic in the report, claiming that it defamed his name and had nothing to do with his clinic.
Warty was released on bail of two million Iraqi dinars (USD 1,350) after protesting his arrest.
However, the incident has sparked concern among human rights advocates and members of the Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments who have expressed their grave concern that journalists and press freedom are increasingly under threat throughout Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).
Outcry for human rights
According to the 2021 Human rights practices in Iraq report by the US Department of State, the media environment in Iraq is closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, with an opaque judiciary and a still-developing democratic political system.
These factors have placed considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press. Iraq currently ranks 163rd out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, and all the killers of murdered journalists in the KRI have operated with impunity, according to CPJ’s 2021 Global Impunity Index where Iraq is ranked third.
Warty was arrested on charges of defamation under Article 434 of the Iraqi Penal Code, while according to the Press Law of KRI, journalists must be tried only under the press law that does not include arrest.
The Article 434 of the Iraqi Penal Code deals with defamation and carries a prison sentence of one month to one year with financial penalties. Warty’s lawyer, Bashdar Hassan, stated that the trial of Warty under Article 434 of the Iraqi Penal Code is a mistake and another violation that occurs in the courts.
The arrest of Warty has sparked anger among the public and media outlets, with many calling for the case to be dealt with according to the press law and not the criminal code. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has reportedly expressed displeasure with Warty’s detention and has made efforts for his release on bail.
Warty himself has stated that from the moment of his arrest, he asked for the case to be changed to the Press Law because he was being sued for journalism.
138 cases of human rights violation
The Kurdistan region has registered 138 cases of violation against 315 media outlets and reporters in 2021, including 47 cases of coverage bans against 104 media outlets and reporters.
The report also indicates 42 cases of arrest, 32 cases of physical attacks and abuse, eight reporters were beaten, and four were verbally threatened. According to official figures by the Syndicate of Journalists, the KRG has registered 31 satellite TV channels, 51 online media outlets, 138 radio stations, 259 papers, 695 magazines, and 85 local TV stations.
The arrest of Kurdish journalist Ayoub Warty on charges of defamation under the Iraqi Penal Code has sparked concern among human rights advocates and members of the Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments.
The incident highlights the increasing threat to journalists and press freedom throughout Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
The KRG has expressed displeasure with Warty’s detention and has made efforts for his release on bail. The case has also sparked public anger and calls for the case to be dealt with according to the press law and not the criminal code.