Iraqi Kurdistan: UNAMI Chief Calls for Free Expression and Political Unity
United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday that freedom of expression and political unity in the Kurdistan region are of critical importance. Although the high-level diplomat did not specify what tensions were being referenced, relations between the political parties in the Kurdistan region have been notably strained after an MP was controversially stripped of parliamentary immunity.
Below is an article by Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Freedom of expression and political unity in the Kurdistan Region are of “critical importance,” United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.
“In the Kurdistan region as elsewhere in Iraq: transparency, freedom of expression, fundamental reforms, fighting corruption are of critical importance, as is political unity,” said the top diplomat.
“Recent internal tensions do not serve the interest of the Kurdish people, far from it,” she added.
Although Plasschaert did not specify what tensions were being referenced, relations among political parties in the Kurdistan Region have been notably strained after an MP was controversially stripped of parliamentary immunit last week.
The move, supported by President Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and minority blocs in the parliament, was roundly condemned by other factions as an attack on the parliament’s democratic functions.
Soran Omar, a Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) MP, will now have to face a lawsuit lodged against him by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Council of Ministers’ legal body last month for making public claims that Prime Minister Masrour Barzani owns a company and a bank.
Iraq’s President Barham Salih, who is also a Kurd and a top figure in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), met with Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Monday to try and smooth things over.
Commentators have warned if the row continues to deepen schisms between the Kurdistan Region’s parties, it could weaken their collective clout in upcoming battles with the Iraqi federal government over oil sales, the budget, and territorial disputes.
General concerns about the state of freedom of expression in the Kurdistan Region have been raised by local and international media watchdogs, with specific emphasis on press freedom following rights violations, including the imprisonment and even deaths of journalists known for their anti-establishment writing.
Last month Reporters Without Borders (RSF) documented a “wave of arrests and harassment of journalists under way in Iraqi Kurdistan since Covid-19 arrived in the region.”
The watchdog counted the arrests of at least four journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic by KRG security forces since the onset of the lockdown.
The Region’s health ministry asked the interior ministry to shut down NRT’s broadcasting after a report claimed the regional government was inflating coronavirus cases in order to prevent citizens from protesting.
“The security forces must stop using this crisis to carry out arrests without charge and without legitimate grounds,” said Sabrina Bennoui, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.