Press Release of the Union of Free Media (YRA) regarding ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (RWB) Report on Rojava
The Union of Free Media (RYA) in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) came about as a response to Rojava’s need to free media during the Revolution.
With the start of popular uprising in Syria and in Rojava, opportunity and freedom paved the way for media to work in Rojava’s areas so as to enable them to transfer developments related to the revolution to the world.
Many journalists and press activists started to establish and organize different kinds of media communications in Rojava. They began communicating with the outside world, national and international media and press organizations to transfer the news of Kurdish people’s revolution in Rojava. Then, came a constant increase of media and of events related to the revolution during which major Kurdish areas were liberated from Baath Party sway by Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
There was a dire need to organize media in Rojava in order to control and limit the confusion and chaos which had started to increase. So many Kurdish press and media activists and journalists pointed to the need for establishing an organization like the RYA. Finally, this union was founded on July 13, 2012 because of the conclusion engulfed the Foundation Conference due to presence of 200 members from different countries.
The RYA was established as an independent and professional informative organization considering the journalist rights, protection issues and freedom of opinion as its primary aims. It has managed, in less than a year after its establishment, to prove its presence, and to construct and cement its legitimacy among all other media and civil society organizations in its way to become formal and function freely in Rojava.
Also, in order to get it licit permission to work in Rojava, this union’s authorities met the managing office of the Supreme Kurdish Council (Desteya Bilind/ SKC) which was considered to be the political reference to all Rojava’s organizations. Amid the lack of media coverage, Rojava was suffering so our union managed to get the license to work formally in all Rojava’s area. This permission was conferred on us by the SKCl which had suggested the RYA to be relied upon as the media’s only reference.
SKC has appointed the RYA to start covering all media and press aspects such as organizing the journalists and giving them tasks accordingly, to provide them with all necessary facilities, and to guarantee easy transportation of all journalistic equipment.
The RYA works with all journalists and press members and organizations according to its journalism contractual policy. By proving its major role in protecting journalists and confirming the major violations of their rights from different sides, the RYA has become more active. Through expanding its duties to cover all Rojava’s nationalities: Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs and others, therefore has turned into a reliable reference for all journalists and media.
Many foreign journalists from different countries and celebrated international news agencies throughout the world have entered Rojava with the RYA’s assistance. We have facilitated their entry to Rojava and helped them prepare their reports successfully and in a safe atmosphere. That is why they are the best reference to judge the works of our union in Rojava.
Report Issued by RWB is Biased:
The RYA was shocked by the RWB report under the title “How Kurdistan’s PYD Keeps Media and News Providers in Line” about the media situation in Rojava issued on May 1, 2014.
This report is far from being objective and impartial. It does not reflect the realities on the ground whatsoever. It has relied on a single source of information and certification of one side that is considered to be biased in favor of a certain Kurdish political party that is well known to everyone.
The RYA finds it shameful and regrettable that such a poor report is coming from such a well-known international organization as ‘Reporters Without Borders’. This report suffers from relying on different sources of information in Rojava that are available and are operating on the ground, e.g. the RYA.
The RYA is operating effectively in the media field and protects journalists’ rights and freedom of speech. Monitoring deeply the media situation in Rojava, it has documented most of infringements taken place on journalists. It holds dozens of documented abuses which have not published yet. Injuries incurred to four journalists in Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood of Aleppo by regime’s mortars and rockets with support of other armed groups is one example. Documented reports about the Kurdish journalists injured by shrapnel of the ISIS group in Kobane (ayn al-Arab), and beating a Kurdish journalist named Rody Said by Turkish army soldiers in Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) and numerous other violations are examples must not be forgotten.
RYA Rejects Accusation of Acting as Information Ministry in Rojava:
We would like to point out that the RYA is a civil, professional, and independent institution that is not affiliated to any official body or organization, that rejects the accusation of working as Information Ministry in Rojava, and favors media free from government’s influence.
In other words, journalists can carry out their duties freely, and this is considered by the RYA as an important base leading to a democratic system. Therefore, the accusation stated in the report about our organization as a form of Ministry of Information is misinforming, misleading, and incorrect.
Concerning Witness’ Statements Mentioned in RWF’s Report:
As for the witness’ sayings on violations of press which have been mentioned in your report, we, the RYA, have been following it seriously, especially with regard to the right of correspondents of Orient TV and Rudaw TV who were exiled by an unidentified armed group to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where we managed to reached out to Rody and Bishoy.
We got their witness statement, communicated with the agencies responsible for the protection of Rojava — with both Asayish and the YPG. They emphasized that they have no information about this incident, and issued a very strong condemning statement regarding this incident, demanding all the ruling powers in Rojava to work in order to protect journalists and facilitate their affairs.
Besides, we asked the Asayish in Rojava to investigate this incident and inform us of the outcome of investigation once accomplished. We also sent two official letters to the Interior Ministry of the Jazira Canton in connection with this incident and the incident of the arrest of Rudaw TV’s reporter, Mohammad Mahmoud Bashar.
Having examined his case, the Asayish forces confirmed the arrest of Rudaw TV’s reporter, Mohammad Mahmoud Bashar, “not because of his media background, but due to his involvement in human smuggling from and to Rojava.”
The Asayish forces stationed on the border between Rojava and Bakur (Turkey’s Kurdistan) said that they had arrested someone who was trying to enter Rojava illegally. Having been arrested, he confirmed that “Mohammad Mahmoud Bashar” had smuggled him into Rojava.
During a call and subsequent investigation of Muhammad Bashar to clarify the case, he was proved to have been active on human smuggling under the guise of working as a TV correspondent. Bashar himself confirmed this fact on Rudaw TV where he admitted he had not been arrested due to his media background.
Based on realities on the ground and ample number of political parties with different political orientations and policies in Rojava, we are all certain that the Asayish have a non-discriminatory approach towards journalists and media workers close to different political parties.
No matter what their political orientation and attitude is, the Asayish do not discriminate against any of the media workers and protect them all equally.
We, the RYA, also have the same non-discriminatory approach towards all correspondents and media workers irrespective of their political orientations.
Rojava’s Revolutionary Situation and Attacks by al-Qaeda Affiliated Groups Must be Taken into Account:
We would like to shed light on the developments going on here. As your organization knows, Rojava (like other parts of Syria) is going through a state of war and instability, something which must not be overlooked. Being densely populated by civilian, Rojava areas have been exposed to continuous vicious attacks by jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda such as Jabhat al-Nusra, the ISIS, and some more.
Kurdish people have, thus far, paid great sacrifices to protect their areas and their very existence from Jihadists’ danger. Needless to say, media situation is of a sensitive nature in Rojava and Kurdish people expect journalists and media workers not to misinform on sacrifices and resistance they have made against Jihadists.
We, the RYA, have met journalists working for some Kurdish channels such as Rudaw TV (which belongs to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq) trying to distort the revolution of Rojava’s people and have made them aware of people’s concerns and sensitivities to this issue.
The great sacrifices the people of Rojava are making and the lives they are giving must not be ignored. Based on this, we notified some news channels of their hostile policies towards people of Rojava and their tacit support of the ISIS and the Syrian regime which had been followed by people’s frequent complaints. Despite their hostile policies against the values of Rojava’s people, we have been facilitating their reporters’ affairs and have been providing them with safety. Besides, we have been protecting their rights to work freely in Rojava.
But, there are people under the guise of media and through forgery of media identity cards try to spy, sabotage, and smuggle humans into Rojava. That is why the Asayish, in order to provide security and prevent any heart-rending incident, have no choice but to take serious investigative measures on those elements.
PYD, Asayish and YPG:
In your report, you have mentioned that the PYD and security institutions are all engaged in this issue. We want to make it clear that the PYD, similar to other parties, works in Rojava and that it is very active on the ground. Its authorities are busy with political, social, and cultural affairs do not interfere in media’s sphere. They, beside Asayish forces and the YPG, have their own plans to seek and implement and are too busy to interfere in other spheres.
The Asayish and the YPG are national institutions that ensure the national security of Rojava and freedom of all people living in three Kurdish provinces regardless of their constituent’s ethnic backgrounds.
The Executive Committee that has been formed out of several Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac parties, including the PYD are all involved in administering public affairs in Rojava. Hence, the accusation you have made your report that the PYD is interfering in other spheres is baseless.
The media situation in Rojava is far better than that of rest of Syria:
With all the difficulties mentioned earlier, media situation in Rojava is still far better that of rest of Syria. Despite the sensitive security situation and the war imposed on Rojava, no journalist and media worker has ever lost his/her life in Rojava whereas in the other regions of Syria, 200 journalist and media activists have lost their lives so far.
This is due to the active role being played by the YPG and Asayish in securing an atmosphere of peace and freedom to people in order to enable them pursue their social and political activities.
We, the RYA, with support of Rojava’s officials, are working to spread the culture of tolerance in dealing with journalists and protecting them and their rights.
We call RWB to Visit Rojava to See Realities on the Ground:
The report that was issued by your organization reflects your unawareness of the realities related to media in Rojava. It indicates lack of continual communication of your organization with responsible bodies operating effectively on the ground.
Therefore, we the YRA, call on RWB to visit Rojava to see the realities from a closer distance. The RYA will welcome you and provide you with security and protection and accompany you to all areas of Rojava so as to help you document the facts on the ground.
We also recommend you to take a look at the realities and facts documented by non-biased professional journalists from various European countries who came to Rojava and managed to fulfill their missions safely and successfully.