Reporters Without Borders (RSF), one of the world’s leading media freedom organisations, reported last week that it has recorded a ‘growing number of abuses’ by the PYD against reporters and journalists working in Rojava. They allege that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the local security forces (Asayish) have been perpetrating ‘abuses on a large scale’, claiming ‘the PYD and its henchmen have no qualms about arresting or even abducting news and information providers whom they see as too critical in order to silence them and intimidate the others.’
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign received a copy of a letter written to RSF by freelance journalist Karlos Zurutuza, who has worked in Kurdistan for many years, responding to the RSF. Given that the picture drawn in the reports entirely contradicts his experience in the region, he felt obliged to write to the organisation and make his experience public. He makes clear that during the six recent trips he has made to Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria, he has found no evidence of the censorship or harassment detailed in the RSF reports, and has been able to work in Rojava without obstacles from authorities. Karloz requested we publicise his letter to offer readers and the public his personal experience of journalistic work on the ground in Rojava, which is a clear challenge to the claims. We reproduce his letter below.*
*Editors Note: Karlos Zurutuza originally named fellow journalist Mr Massoud Hamid as author of the RSF report. This version of the letter was circulated and published before he knew of this mistake, and has now been replaced with an amended version (below). He has written a public apology to Mr Hamid for the error, which we also publish below. Nonetheless, Mr Zurutuza stands by his statements on his experiences as a journalist in Rojava.
2 May 2014
I came across Reporters without Borders report dated in May 1st on alleged abuses against fellow reporters in Syria´s northeast and I feel morally obliged to comment on such a distressing issue.
Firstly, I´m not in a position to tell whether such statements are true or false. I also want to express my deepest rejection and concern over any kind of harassment suffered by fellow colleagues, either in Syria or elsewhere.
However, I want to think that such a senior and referential organization as RSF did double check and compare sources before publicly posting such serious allegations.
This being said, I have to admit that I was particularly surprised by the picture drawn in the report, as my personal experience in the area couldn´t be more divergent.
So far I´ve travelled in six occasions to Kurdish controlled areas in Syria, the first one before the war and the other five after July 2012. I´m currently rounding up my last stories from a coverage in late April.
During all my time in Jazeera region, in Syria´s northeast, I´ve never faced any hurdle whatsoever to meet all sorts of people or work freely around the area, something which comes in clear contrast with the scenario RSF depicts in its report.
Before somebody accuses me of siding with any political actor on the ground, I want to underline that I was already asking PYD co-chair Salih Muslim on alleged abuses against opposition members and “secret pacts with the regime” as early as August 2012.
There´s also my work on Rojava´s Kurdish opposition published after a visit to Jazeera region last Autumn, after meeting a number of opposition leaders, Yekiti leader Ibrahim Biro among them.
All this set of interviews got shaped in a long feature I wrote on Kurdish opposition movements inside Syrian Kurdistan (“An opposition within the opposition”.
I shall not bother the reader with further proofs of my independence as a journalist, as all my work is available on line.
Up to this point, the question is probably obvious to everybody: how could I possibly conduct all this work in the dire scenario in which, according to RSF, there´s hardly any chance to work independently?
During my last visit to the area in April, I did contact the Union of Free Media, an organization that RSF portraits as “a kind of information ministry seen as the only body that oversees media organizations that want to work in Rojava.”
Their media liaison was most helpful and would show up only when and if I requested his help. The rest of my time in Jazeera´s capital was spent among very good local friends, many of whom happen to be solid PDK supporters. Nobody from the Union of Free Media showed the slightest concern over where I was staying, or who I was meeting.
I´m far from willing to start a dialectic war with RSF. As I said at the beginning of this letter, it´s up to RSF to contrast allegations as serious as those mentioned in the report.
For the time being, and while we wait for further clarifications from RSF, all I can do is share my experience with the public opinion, which has clearly no resemblance with that depicted in the report.
I call on every fellow reporter on the ground, very especially on those mentioned on the RSF report, to follow suit and tell their story so the truth does not get distorted through unnecessary intermediaries.
** Dear Editorial Staff,
I would like to publicly apologize to Mr Massoud Hamid for claiming that he wrote this statement, which Reporters Without Borders published on 1 May.
In a previous letter, I identified Mr Hamid as the author of the statement, which deals with alleged abuses against Syrian news providers in areas controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
I had already read it when a source I shall not name forwarded me the link, adding that Mr Hamid was its author.
I had the pleasure to work with Mr Hamid last autumn. Thanks to his good access to opposition members, I published a long feature on Kurdish opposition movements inside Syrian Kurdistan (“An opposition within the opposition”).
Before I wrote my previous letter, I gave Mr Hamid a call to confirm that he was the person who wrote the report. His English is almost as poor as my French so I admit that, influenced by the email I had received, I thought he said, “I was the author” when he was actually saying he was not the author.
I received proof of my error in the form of a call from the head of RWB’s Middle East and North Africa Desk, Ms Soazig Dollet, assuring me that RWB, not Mr Hamid, was the author of the above-mentioned statement. “Massoud Hamid was not even informed that such a statement was in the pipeline,” Ms Dollet told me.
I hope this matter is now clear to everyone, and that Mr Hamid’s credibility has not been affected by my mistake and unprofessional behaviour.