THE BLOG

Kurdistan Region, Iraq Freedom of Speech

07/03/2013 13:03 GMT | Updated 04/05/2013 10:12 BST

The mistreatment and oppression of human beings, be it psychological or physical, has proved to be the fuel for revolutions. There is no question that the diversified world that we cohabit in today has no room for misogynistic and misanthropic ideologies. Therefore, there are various levers in place such as international laws and organisations that make use of the international media platforms to inform, educate and raise awareness of human right violations across the world. These organisations carry the full support of the Kurdish Nation, given the history.

It is not a secret, anymore, the torment and suffering the Kurdish population have endured under nationalistic and fascist regimes. It is painful enough to be tortured under inhumane methods, but to be a victim of ethnical cleansing is another level of intense suffering. Over the course of history, and to this present day, the Kurdistan Region is under an imminent threat of having their culture penetrated through systematic campaigns of abuse that instil fear in the Kurds if they are to speak their language, have Kurdish names or make reference to Kurdish history. However, attempts to date have not been able to disarm the Kurdish patriotic thinking or development of the homeland. If anything, it makes the nation stronger; in unity there is strength. The Kurdistan Region in Iraq had grieved under the fists of the Ba'ath party regime and was denied any form of opportunities to develop and succeed in any industry, simply because they were Kurdish. In today's western world we campaign for equal rights for women. However, if we teleported back in time to the Kurdish regions, the women were already seen as equal partners and also held a huge responsibility. The focus for the Kurds was to preserve the will to live in peace.

Recently, the Human Right Watch issued an article on the topic of 'free speech' where the Middle East director was quoted, "These are dark days for freedom of expression in Iraq's Kurdistan region," due to a few journalists being detained.

I feel that this is inaccurate of the conditions in Kurdistan. I also feel that this assumption could be due to having a mindset that as Kurdistan falls under Iraq, that it is still influenced by the ba'aath ideology. Iraqi-Kurdistan is split into three fragments being the Kurdish community, the political parties and the Kurdistan Regional Government. These three fragments must not be confused as one entity, which is usually the case. Each one of these entities has an influential force to the development of the Kurdish Region, but each have a different vision. The majority of the community wish to ensure that the cultural and traditions are preserved, the political parties are in competition with each other to win voter support, and the government is there to serve all the Kurdish community and uphold the law regardless of beliefs.

H.E Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq & H.E Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region has stressed in various interviews and speeches the importance of freedom of speech and reinforced that it is the pillar of democratic institutions and that the Kurdistan Region is no different. However, I feel that it is important to highlight that where there are cases that individuals regardless whether they are journalists or not, are abusing 'freedom of speech' to insult or abuse others including politicians without evidence then this is a public offense and defamation of character. Therefore, the community itself does not allow such speech rather than the Government, and where there are cases that the community are not happy with, and then the KRG must investigate and as per the Law of the country intervene, which has been the case. There is a difference in highlighting weakness, such as corruption with clear evidence and proof, and accusing an individual based on no concrete evidence.

I would like to share a personal example; I was invited on live national television to discuss the conditions of the healthcare system of the Kurdistan Region. My views included negative aspects yet I was not threatened or abused. In fact, I was welcomed and supported to share my ideas with the nation. To add more to this, the Prime Minister H.E Nechirvan Barzani himself on national television and radio constructively criticises elements of the systems that exist in the region, and reminds the nation of their duties to develop and improve the region. As a result, there are all types of conferences hosted, from women's rights to health awareness. Whilst Iraq continues to divide based on religious premises the Kurdistan region opens its doors to all religions, races and colour and welcomes them to the Kurdish nation. Most events have all types of journalists covering the event, and are free to criticise as they wish.

The Kurds have been neglected in history, and the richness of our hospitality and cultural traditions that integrate with western culture have not been visible to the world due to the oppression but now the Department of Foreign Relations work hard by giving a round the clock service to support the development of the nation. The region has opened its doors through the department to receive multiple diplomats a day, and shares exchanges with the western world, at an attempt to revitalise and modernise the Kurdish infrastructure. The Kurdistan Region has, like any other democratic institution, opposition parties who portray their views and challenge the government. This is encouraged by the government as it highlights where the weakness is, and strengthens the region. The nation is embryonic and there may be elements of the culture that may not be in line with the 21st Century. However, providing it does not break the law, then it is the right of the people to live by their values and this is to be respected.

I feel, organisations such as Human Rights Watch must take in to consideration the growth and reform of the region and assess with a fresh lens rather than maintain a prejudicial lens based on the experience with other Middle-East regimes as the Kurds are not Arabs, nor Iranian, or Turks. Through positive energy, there will be a beam of great things, and there are a lot of organisations in Kurdistan including the political parties and the government that are working hard to deliver a new chapter of life to the region.

In Winston Churchill's words, ''All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a simple word; freedom, justice, honour duty, mercy, hope'. This is what the Kurdish nation strives for, and will achieve in time, as with all great things will face its share of challenges.