Kurdish public demands justice for Kawa / Criticial questions for PUK

28 Jan 2014 – By Rozh Ahmad: Kurdistan Tribune – The Kurdish public is angry that the authorities are not pursuing a case against the political official accused of involvement in the murder of journalist Kawa Germyani. Kalar court has released Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Political Bureau member Mahmoud Sangawi – the prime suspect for commissioning the slaying of Kawa – and this has led to public anger and demonstrations across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Germyani, 32, was an independent reporter and magazine editor who was gunned down outside his home in the town of Kalar late evening on 6th December 2013. Kawa was born into a very poor family and married last year. His son, Amed, was born 15 days after his murder. Many people say that he was a voice for the voiceless, mainly through his outgoing anti-corruption stance as a journalist in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which is an autonomous part of one of the ten most corrupt countries in the world. (according to Transparency International)

Kawa was most famous  – and infamous to some – for how he directly disclosed the Iraqi Kurdish government’s inadequacies, and named and shamed corrupt ruling Kurdish political officials, one of whom now stands accused of having ordered his slaying.

Protests swept across the Kurdistan Region following Kawa’s assassination and again more recently, when Sangwai of the PUK was acquitted and released on Sunday 19th January, after the local Kalar court ruled that he had played no part in plotting or ordering the slaying of Kawa.

“We are here to say to the Kurdish authorities that we will continue the struggle for freedom of expression. Germyani’s assassination was a message the authorities had sent for other journalists here in Iraqi Kurdistan to stop exposing corruption,” said Jeza Muhammad, a close colleague of Germyani and a protester in the town Kalar, condemning what he called, “The sham courts of the authorities covering up the assassination of a young, free thinking and an independent journalist who wrote and fought for the rights of the voiceless.”

He added: “The perpetrators basically sent a message saying to journalists, ‘Zip your mouths and cripple your fingers, do not speak and type about corruption, unless you want the same fate as that of Germyani…’”

The Kurdish public, however, still deem Sangwai of the PUK as the main suspect behind the assassination, given that Sangawi last year threatened to kill Germyani in a phone call that was recorded and has been widely circulated across the various social media outlets.

The threat to kill Germyani came last year after Rayal magazine, of which Kawa was editor-in-chief, extensively exposed how Sangawi had mediated a tribal settlement between two powerful Kurdish families and that the settlement had involved bribery,  even though Sangawi – a well-known, high-ranking political official in the Kurdistan Region – should not have been involved in such a tribal resolution in the first place. Independent Kurdish newspapers and members of the public domain are now speculating, and some are completely convinced, that the unnamed defendant who has confessed to carrying out the assassination, must have been carrying out an order given to him by a top political official in the town of Kalar, which is a PUK stronghold and where Sangawi is the most influential PUK figure. Moreover, the telecommunication company providing the network for Sangawi’s phone has confirmed to the Kurdish media that Sangawi had made several phone calls and exchanged text messages with the defendant who confessed that he had shot Kawa Germyani dead.

“Sangawi or another official in the PUK are responsible for the assassination of my brother,” said Germyani’s brother, Karwan Ahmad, during a speech given to protesters outside the local court in Kalar, adding that his family firmly believes that a PUK political official is behind the slaying, “but is unsure whether it was Sangawi or another PUK official”.

Danna Asaad, Editor-In-Chief of the Awene News website, an independent media outlet for which Germyani worked as a reporter, said: “He was a fearless journalist, lived very poorly in one room with his pregnant wife, but worked courageously to defend people’s rights despite being beaten up by police on many occasions when he had reported on local protests. Germyani taught us to be brave as journalists, dare to expose the corrupts and say no to the authorities whenever necessary regardless of the consequences.”

Many in Kurdistan believe that Sangawi was never arrested in the first place: “it was a propaganda scheme devised by the PUK to gain votes in the upcoming Kurdistan Region provincial election, coinciding with Iraqi parliamentary election,” claim several independent media outlets such as Hawlati, Livin Magazine and like-minded print and online outlets.

“The tragedy is that the political party of which the alleged perpetrator is a high-ranking member, now strives to use the case for election propaganda and other partisan interests,” said Jiyar Muhammad, a lawyer voluntarily investigating Germyani’s assassination case.

Even people of the Sangawi tribe related to Sangwai of the PUK reject the reports of his arrest and subsequent release.

Haji Saleh Ali, of Sangawi’s tribe, said proudly: “It was a big media lie that one of our beloved elders, Mahmoud Sangawi, was arrested by the police. He has at least 5,000 armed men behind him, the police are therefore afraid of him”. He added: “Our families would never agree to his arrest as that would bring shame and disgrace to us all in {the administrative district of} Sangaw.”

Many international journalists and rights organisations have condemned the slaying of Germyani and some hold the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) indirectly accountable.

The KRG established a committee to investigate the case led by the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS), an affiliated member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).  Aram Ikram, the KJS leader in Kalar, was a member of the committee but, following the release of Sangawi, Ikram said that the KJS and other Kurdish and international civil society organisations have officially resigned from it.

“The committee had worked well in the early stages on the case,” said Ikram, “But now we think the court’s decision is unfair and therefore it does not deserve investigation, that is why we have withdrawn ourselves from it.”

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is often contemplated worldwide as an example of prosperous democracy for the rest of Iraq and the Middle East. However, under the reign of every KRG cabinet, an activist, writer or journalist has been assassinated – this view is now widely voiced by the Kurdish public. “In the last 22 years, since the Kurdish uprising in Iraq took place back in 1991, every now and then a journalist, an activist or a writer has been assassinated that is why the public is so distrustful of the government,” said Hasan Judi, a prominent Kurdish writer.

He added: “Assassination of journalists and free-thinking members of society is the act of cowards, which is why such an act will never stop the intellectual Kurdish youths fighting with their words to expose crimes of Kurdish corrupt officials. It would definitely embolden and yet further their will for freedom and democracy, because they have understood that a price is needed to be paid for democratic demands and they seem to be ready to pay that price just as Germyani was ready and paid that price with his beautiful soul.”