Old Column: Karzan Karim: Whistleblower or Journalist?

By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – On 7 October, 2012, Karzan Karim was sentenced to two years in prison for violating Law 21 of 2003. According to Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Middle Eastern director Joe Stork his sentencing is a threat to any journalist in Kurdistan who writes critical of state authorities. But this depends on the case if Karim is a whistleblower or journalist. In other countries, he would be sentenced too if he would leak information of a security organization.

In the Kurdistan region most people have two jobs. I have spoken to people who are both teachers and journalists at the same time, or who work both as taxi drivers and as Peshmergas. However, working both as a journalist and as a security official, and then revealing ‘secrets’ of an organization is problematic in most of parts of the world. Karzan Karim worked both as a journalist and as a security official at Erbil airport. This is unimaginable in most parts of the world.

Even in the Netherlands, US, or other countries, officers of security agencies have been charged or appeared before court for leaking state secrets or information. An example is the American soldier Bradley Manning who leaked information to Wikileaks. In Holland, there were several court cases against members of intelligence organizations allegedly leaking information to the media.  

The Obama administration is known for being very harsh against whistleblowers within security organizations and prosecuting them for leaking information. This makes it more difficult for people working in security organization to reveal misconduct and failures of security services, army or other organizations in the security field. But the situation in Kurdistan clearly confused Human Rights Watch (HRW) and their report about the situation of Karim. But it also shows that there are problems with the Asayish. How is it possible that a journalist can work at a security organization and then reveal ‘secrets’ which he acquired from his work place on the Kurdistan post website? It shows that organizations in Kurdistan need to learn that people should have one job, with one responsibility. Most likely most people cannot afford to have one job to survive and this creates problems.

For instance, or you are a journalist and are engaged in investigations and reports, or you are a security official busy with security issues at an airport. I do not understand how the Asayish can allow a journalist to work for them at such a sensitive area such as a an airport.

Kurds love to compare the situation in Kurdistan with the situation in the West. I know Kurdistan is not same as the West, but even in other countries in this region it’s not possible to be a journalist and a member of the police or security. This shows that jobs here does not pay enough money to survive, and that there is no clear idea of job responsibilities.

This has nothing to do with press freedom such as HRW says. There are many journalists who write about corruption in Kurdistan and who are not in prison. Karim is likely just arrested because he is member of a security organization and writing about his work. This explains the secrecy surrounding the case and solitary confinement, which is often applied to whistleblowers of security agents/officers in prison. This however does not justify any torture of Karzan Karim, and it is logical there is criticism about his imprisonment, but the imprisonment of security officials leaking information also happens in other parts of the world. Whether you agree with it or not.