Kurdish authorities ‘likely involved’ in murder of citizen journalist

On the 12th anniversary of Kurdish journalist Sardasht Osman’s death, an investigation by three press advocacy groups says Iraqi Kurdish authorities were ‘likely directly involved’ and that Osman was murdered because of a satirical blog post.

The results of the survey were published in a 43-page report Wednesday by A Safer World For The Truth, a collaborative initiative of Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The groups said they interviewed dozens of witnesses, analyzed records and reviewed satellite photos to conclude that Osman, a citizen journalist, had been targeted for an article written a year earlier criticizing the family of the president of the Kurdistan region. Massoud Barzani.

Osman’s body was found on May 6, 2010 in Mosul, two days after he was abducted outside his university campus in the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Irbil. He had been shot in the head.

“This report reveals serious flaws in the official investigation into Sardasht’s abduction and assassination and finds credible allegations that Kurdish authorities were directly involved in the murder,” the group’s report said.

VOA contacted the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to comment on the report but received no response. The KRG had accused the now defunct terror group Ansar al-Islam of carrying out the murder. Barzani has previously denied any involvement in Osman’s death.

Osman was 23 when he died and was a student at Salahaddin University in Erbil. The offensive blog post, titled “I’m in love with Barzani’s daughter”, ridiculed Barzani’s family for nepotism and corruption.

After publication his articleOsman wrote that he had received death threats and was questioned by security forces.

“There are always people who don’t want to listen when you start telling the truth, who get angry at the slightest whisper. To stay alive though, we have to tell the truth. I will continue to write until the last minute of my life,” he wrote.

Numerous reports have documented how the Barzani and Talabani families dominated Kurdistan for decades and allegedly amassed vast hidden wealth using their control over the regional government, security forces and oil resources.

A safer world for the truth describes itself as “a people’s tribunal” in a world where impunity for crimes against journalists is common. So far, the initiative has investigated impunity in the killings of five journalists.

In Osman’s case, the KRG created a special committee to investigate the matter. But journalist groups found many problems with the committee’s work, making the explanation that the terrorists were to blame implausible.

“First, we discovered that after the assassination, the Kurdish authorities constantly harassed and threatened Sardasht’s family and friends, and threatened journalists who had written about the case. Additionally, Kurdish authorities banned various publications about Sardasht’s life, work and murder,” the report said.

“The place where Sardasht was abducted was constantly monitored by CCTV cameras and armed guards, but the armed guards did not prevent the abduction; nor did the committee analyze CCTV footage of the abduction,” the inquest found.

An original autopsy report is missing, the group said, as is its author. An official autopsy report was inconsistent with other physical evidence, and the KRG committee never interviewed Osman’s family and friends or investigated the threats he had received.

Jules Swinkels, lead researcher for the group’s report, said in a statement: “Sardasht’s case is emblematic of what can happen when journalists push the boundaries of their confined free speech.”

“[Osman] wrote satirically about the most powerful individuals in Kurdistan and was kidnapped and murdered because of it. Tragically, his case demonstrates that a complete lack of political will to investigate and solve the murders of journalists at the national level is one of the main reasons for impunity,” Swinkels added.

In the years since Osman’s death, at least 22 other journalists have been killed in Iraq, including several in KRG-controlled areas, according to CPJ.

The report calls on the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom, which have all assisted the KRG financially and militarily, to pressure Kurdish authorities “to investigate the threats, attacks and killings of journalists in accordance with international standards, including a new investigation into the case of Sardasht Osman.

Amanda J. Marsh