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CPJ condemns attack on radio station in Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdish demonstrators pray in Sulaimaniya following protests. (AFP/Shwan Mohammed)

New York, March 8, 2011--Nearly a dozen gunmen stormed an independent radio station in Sulaimaniya's Kalar district on Sunday, vandalizing the office, breaking most of the equipment, and confiscating the rest. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assault on Radio Dang and calls on the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan to thoroughly investigate the attack.  It is the second armed assault on an independent radio station in Sulaimaniya in a less than a month, according to news reports.

Radio Dang Executive Director Azad Osman said he believes the station's coverage of recent anti-government demonstrations in Sulaimaniya was the reason behind the attack. "We covered the demonstrations in a direct, professional way and I think that some did not like that, especially officials and the authorities," he said.

There have been scattered protests in northern Iraq for the past three weeks; it has killed five and injured 158 so far, the head of the country's emergency health department, Dr. Nozad Ahmed, told CNN. Today in Sulaimaniya, hundreds of demonstrators gathered to protest Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan regional government, according to international news reports.

"This is the second time in less than a month that gunmen have attacked a radio station in reprisal for its coverage of protests against the Kurdistan Regional Government.," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "We hold the government responsible for the safety and protection of independent journalists and news outlets under its jurisdiction. The Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of the press and the authorities must uphold that right."

On Sunday, around 2:30 a.m., two cars carrying at least 10 gunmen stormed the office of the station in Kalar, southeast district of Sulaimaniya, Mariwan Hama-Saeed, the head of local press freedom group Metro Center, told CPJ.

On February 20, 50 gunmen stormed a newly established station, Nalia Radio and Television. The broadcasting equipment was destroyed by bullets and fire. Two guards and a janitor were injured.  So far, no arrests have been made, according to local journalists.

With two attacks on stations in a month, local journalists are on edge. "It creates uneasiness among independent journalists and make them be more cautious and careful in their coverage," Osman said.

Sunday's attack was the second on Radio Dang since the station was established in 2010 as the first independent radio station to broadcast in the area. In March 2010, Kurdish security forces stormed the office, interrupting a broadcast and confiscating equipment. Authorities claimed that the station did not have a license permitting it to broadcast but Radio Dang rejected those claims. After an outcry from press freedom groups, the station's equipment was returned and the station resumed its broadcast. 

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