Iraq: HRW Wants New Inquiry of Journalist's Death

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq -- A human rights group on Friday denounced a regional government's investigation into the slaying of Kurdish journalist critical of authorities in Iraq, calling for a more independent inquiry.

Freelance journalist Sardasht Othman's handcuffed and bullet-ridden body was found near the restive northern Iraqi city of Mosul and authorities concluded he had been killed by insurgents.

Many Kurds in the autonomous region where he lived, however, blamed authorities for his killing and staged dozens of huge protests demanding the perpetrators be brought to justice.

"The Kurdistan government needs to get to the bottom of this killing with an open and independent inquiry that will include looking into allegations of government involvement," said Joe Stork, deputy Mideast director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Othman's writing often was critical or mocking of the self-rule Kurdish government in Iraq's north. His death in May brought new attention to long-standing allegations of government-sanctioned abuse of media in the autonomous region.

Kurdish government officials have denied any involvement in Othman's death and in a report September concluded that he had ties to Sunni militants in nearby Mosul who ultimately killed him.

Stork, however, said the evidence was unconvincing and appeared to rely on a single, unidentified suspect who confessed to handing over a blindfolded and bound Othman to militants.

Stork said the confession should not have been enough evidence to close the inquiry -- especially since government officials did not interview Othman's family or friends.

It's also not clear if the suspect who confessed will face charges in Othman's killing, Stork said.
Kurdish government media minister Hadi Mohammed declined to comment.