On Saturday, March 4, Ahmed Ghafur Hakim, a contributing reporter for the VOA Kurdish language service, was in his car accompanied by his brother and cameraman, when he saw a large gathering of people surrounded by security forces and police near Diwan Hotel and Sami Abdulrahman Park in the city of Erbil in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. Hakim came out of his car wearing his VOA credentials and tried to approach the gathering. Before he was able to do so, the Kurdish police stopped him, proceeded to confiscate his badge, his camera and his cell phone and took him and his brother to a nearby police station.
According to Hakim, he never received an explanation from the security officials as to why he was detained, although he kept asking and identifying himself as a Voice of America journalist. Hakim reported that he was kept at the detention center for eight hours, where he was verbally insulted, and was eventually released.
“I am appalled by the fact that this VOA journalist, who was only doing his job, was harassed by police forces in such a way,” said VOA Director Amanda Bennett. “Despite troubling incidents such as this one, VOA will not be deterred from seeking out and sharing the truth.”
VOA Kurdish reaches its audience on radio, television and the Internet. In addition to shortwave and AM, the programs air on FM affiliates in several cities in Iraq (Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra). VOA Kurdish also produces video reports that are streamed on its website. The service’s audience consists of more than 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East and Eurasia and approximately one million Kurds living in Europe and North America. Audience research indicates that the broadcasts are popular among listeners in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.