New York, August 10, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats made against journalists at the Sulaymaniyah-based Livin after the magazine published an interview that was critical of a 20th-century Kurdish leader.
In the August 1 interview, a researcher named Irfan Qani Fard discussed the legacy of Mustafa Barzani, a Kurdish nationalist leader and the father of Masoud Barzani, the current president of the Kurdish Regional Government and the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In the interview, Fard, who describes himself as an independent researcher, asserted that Mustafa Barzani had betrayed Qazi Mohamed, president of the short-lived Republic of Kurdistan, and claimed that he was supported by Iranian intelligence services.
Halgurd Samad, editorial director of Livin, told CPJ that the magazine was then threatened in public statements, e-mails, and text messages.
On Thursday, an entity describing itself as "youth group defending the sanctity of Kurdistan" published a statement in Khabat, the daily newspaper of the KDP, calling on Kurds to "raise their hands against those who want to abuse the history of our leaders, like Qazi Muhamed and General Mullah Mustafa Barzani." It stated that "those who are responsible must be abused and insulted. We are here to sacrifice our lives against those who do not know the borders of their freedom and freedom of others." The statement (translated by the U.K.-based nongovernmental group Kurdish Media) insisted that Livin journalists apologize or "pay the price."
Samad told CPJ that the text and e-mail threats were similar. "The general message is that when it comes to writing, Mustafa Barzani constitutes a red line that should not be crossed," Samad said by phone.
Mohamed Mella Qader, a KDP official, told the Kurdistan News Agency that "in the political bureau of the party we are not aware of any threats to the magazine, we did not do anything like that, and we will not do it."
In July, the KDP filed a defamation complaint against an opposition weekly, Rozhnama, seeking US$1 billion in damages and the closing of the newspaper. Rozhnama had published a report accusing the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two ruling parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, of profiting from illegal oil smuggling to Iran.
"The KDP is building a record of intimidating journalists who present critical views of the party or its leaders," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We are dismayed the KDP would claim ignorance of the thinly veiled threats made on the pages of its own newspaper. We call on the party's leadership to unequivocally denounce these threats."
Editor's note: The original text of this alert was modified in the second paragraph to correct Fard's affiliation. He calls himself an independent researcher. CPJ's original alert, based on Livin's published description, had identified him as a Harvard doctoral student.