After it’s been revealed on Wednesday that two European journalists were arrested by Iraqi troops on the 20th of April, a colleague of one of the journalists said to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the journalist was arrested while he was covering issues affecting the Yazidis in Iraq.
Soldiers with the Iraqi 20th Infantry Division arrested Matej Kavčič, a Slovenian freelance reporter, on the 20th of April at an army checkpoint in the city of Sinjar (Shengal), the hometown of the Yazidis.
While Kavčič identified himself as a journalist, Iraqi troops brought him to a nearby military facility, where they confiscated his phone and questioned him, according to a report by CPJ.
Marlene Förster, a German national, who was traveling with Kavčič, was also detained in the process.
Iraqi authorities allege that the pair ‘pretended to work as journalists’, and accused them of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated a ‘terrorist group’ in neighbouring Turkey and in the European Union.
On April 22, authorities transferred Kavčič and Förster to Iraqi capital Baghdad for further questioning, according to the Berlin-based Kurdish rights group Civaka Azad. No formal charges have been disclosed in their case as of Wednesday, according to Förster’s mother Lydia Förster, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and Kavčič’s colleague, who spoke to CPJ on the condition that their name not be disclosed.
In a statement, the Slovenian student-run broadcaster Radio Študent wrote that Kavčič had traveled to Sinjar to work as a freelance reporter and occasionally contributed to that outlet. Radio Študent wrote that its staff ‘firmly reject’ any accusation that Kavčič was not working as a journalist.
In another statement, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said:
“Iraqi authorities must release Slovenian journalist Matej Kavčič immediately and without charge, and must ensure that the press can work freely (…) Journalists in Iraq must be able to do their jobs without fear of reprisal or being caught in political crosshairs.”
Kavčič earlier wrote in February 2022 about the political situation in Syria, and his report was published by Radio Študent. He also recently wrote about Kurds in Iraq and immigrants in Slovenia for local Slovenian outlets.
Slovenian authorities are aware of Kavčič’s detention, according to media reports.
CPJ contacted the Slovenian Embassy in Turkish capital Ankara by e-mail, and the Slovenian consular department of the foreign ministry for comment, but did not receive any replies.
Elisabeth Schwarz, a representative of the German Federal Foreign Office’s press department, told CPJ by e-mail that they were aware of Förster’s case and that the embassy in Baghdad was providing consular assistance.
CPJ also e-mailed the Iraqi foreign ministry, defence ministry, and communication and media commission for comment, but did not receive any replies.
A member of the Shengal Culture and Arts Association told Roj News that the two journalists had earlier visited the association.
Şoreş Shengali said:
“By arresting the journalists, they want to prevent the World from learning about the Yazidi people’s culture and the facts about the history of massacres [committed against the Yazidis]. The journalists visited us, wanted to carry out a research about our culture and history, and intended to inform the World about it. Particularly Marlene expressed her concern many times about introducing our culture in Germany.”
Speaking to daily Yeni Özgür Politika, Marlene’s mother Lydia Förster, called upon German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock to intervene. She said:
“As a mother I wonder what Baerbock, who made her own researches on the Yazidis, will say about the detention of a young woman in Iraq over terrorism charges.”