Foreign Reporters Rap Kurdish Authorities over Press Freedom

Eighteen foreign correspondents who have long covered Iraqi Kurdistan sharply criticised the region's government on Sunday over a deterioration in the work conditions of Kurdish reporters.

In an open letter to the president of the autonomous region Massud Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, they pointed to the so far unsolved murder earlier this month of a young journalist who had been critical of the authorities.

"As journalists who have covered Iraqi Kurdistan for many years, we are writing to express our concern over the apparent deterioration in the right of Kurdish journalists to report and comment freely," said the letter, published in the independent Kurdish newspaper Awene.

"In solidarity with our Kurdish colleagues and as friends of the Kurds, we urge you not to imitate the oppressive policies of the regime your people struggled against for so long," said the open letter, referring to now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"On many occasions, when you were in hiding in the mountains or in exile, both of you told us of your intention to end the abuses of freedom, including the suppression of the press, in your country.

"We who write to you today do so as friends rather than opponents, as correspondents who believed your words when you were seeking power and as journalists who respectfully remind you of your past commitment to your people's liberty," the letter read.

Among those who signed the letter were long-time BBC correspondent Jim Muir, former Guardian reporter David Hirst, American journalists Jim Hoagland, Jonathan Randal, Quil Lawrence and Charles Glass, and French reporters Gerard Chaliand, Chris Kutschera and Marc Kravetz.

The signatories pointed to the murder of Sardasht Osman earlier this month as "only the latest in a series of assaults on independent journalism in Iraqi Kurdistan."

Osman, 22, worked as a journalist for the magazine Ashtiname ("Letter for Peace" in Kurdish) and was an English-Kurdish translator. His body was found 24 hours after he was kidnapped on his university campus on May 4.

( AFP )

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