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Iraq bans two major Kurdish TV channels over inciting hatred, violence

File photo shows the headquarters of the Kurdish television channel, Rudaw, in Erbil, Iraq.

Iraq’s media regulator has issued a ban on two major Kurdish television channels, namely Rudaw and Kurdistan 24, accusing the two networks of “inciting hatred and violence”, as the semi-autonomous Kurdish region continues to suffer from the fallout of the last month’s contentious referendum on independence from the Arab country.

The Baghdad-based Communication and Media Commission on Sunday imposed the ban the two channels, both of which are close to regional president Massoud Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), alleging that programs of the pair “target social peace and security.”

The channels, however, strongly rejected the allegations and described the ban as violation of freedom of speech.

“This is an assault on freedom of press and expression,” said the Erbil-based Kurdistan 24’s management in a letter to the International Federation of Journalists.

The Rudaw, for its part, published a statement on its official website, saying that the regulator’s decision was a “political” one. It also slammed the move as “illegal and an intimidation of Rudaw and freedom of press in Iraq.”

“We call upon the Iraqi government, all concerned administrative authorities and those concerned with press freedom in Iraq to correct this defect as it impinges on Iraq's fame and dignity and it will be a grave precedent for press all over Iraq,” said Ako Mohammad, the director general of Rudaw media network, in a separate statement.

The developments come as Barzani told the Kurdish regional parliament that he would step down as president of the KRG as early November 1 and that he would not seek a re-election after the September 25’s highly controversial Kurdish independence referendum, whose architect was Barzani himself, sparked a crisis with Baghdad and neighboring countries.

A few hours after Barzani’s announcement, Kurdish lawmakers approved the 71-year-old Kurdish leader’s request to resign, prompting dozens of people, who called themselves Peshmerga Kurdish fighters, to storm the assembly on Sunday evening and began attacking the legislators and journalists until the police subdued them.

The crestfallen Barzani, whose critics blamed him for an injudicious decision to call the non-binding plebiscite at a time when the Iraqi government was busy fighting Daesh Takfiri terrorists, delivered a televised speech shortly after Parliament approved his request, lambasting the US for not supporting Kurds in their quest for independence.

Baghdad, which strongly slammed the vote as unconstitutional, responded to the referendum by taking a number of punitive measures, including a campaign to seize back positions held by Kurdish forces since 2014, when they joined the fight against Daesh terrorists.

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