Iraqi commission says journalist’s murder unrelated to his work



 
Sardasht Osman, a young journalist who was kidnapped on 4 May in Erbil and was found dead two days later in Mosul, was killed for refusing to cooperate with Ansar Al-Islam, a radical Islamic group linked to Al-Qaeda, not because of his work as a journalist, a Kurdistan government commission of enquiry said in a statement yesterday.
 
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Kurdish protest against killing of Sardasht Osman. R.R.

Appointed by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s president, Massoud Barzani, the commission claimed that Osman had originally agreed to cooperate with Ansar Al-Islam and then refused. It said Hisham Mahmood Ismail, a driver and mechanic based in the town of Beji, had confessed to transporting Osman to Mosul without knowing that he was to be murdered there by two members of Ansar Al-Islam.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the efforts being made by the Kurdistan authorities to track down Osman’s killers but questions this investigation’s credibility.

During a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in July, Reporters Without Borders representatives tried in vain to meet with the commission of enquiry. Despite having high-level contacts within the interior ministry and Prime Minister Barham Salih’s office, they were not even able to establish the identity of the commission’s members.

The fact that the commission of enquiry’s findings seem to be based on a single person’s confession is another reason for caution. Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to produce the evidence that the commission used to reach its conclusions.

In a statement issued yesterday, the journalist’s brother, Baker Osman said: “We not only reject the results of the investigation but we also condemn its activities and we express our anger at these attempts to portray him as a terrorist who cooperated with Ansar Al-Islam (…) Anyone who knew Sardasht or read his articles knew that he was a secular person far removed from terrorist ideology.”

A student of English language and literature, Osman wrote under the pseudonym of Dashti Othman for the newspaper Ashtiname and for various independent websites such as Sbeiy.com, Awene.com, Hawlati.info and Livinpress.com. He was kidnapped by gunmen outside the language department of Salahadin University in Erbil.

Another journalist has been murdered in Iraqi Kurdistan in the past two years. It was Soran Mama Hama, a reporter for Lvin Magazine, who was gunned down outside his home in Kirkuk on 21 July 2008.

When a ceremony has held in his honor in Sulaymaniyah on the second anniversary of his death, his family criticized the lack of progress in the investigation into his murder and accused the authorities of lacking any desire to solve the case.