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(Beirut) – The Kurdistan Regional Government should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the attack on the prominent journalist Asos Hardi on August 29, 2011, and prosecute whoever is responsible, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hardi is the director of the Awene Press and Publishing Company, which publishes the independent newspaper Awene in Iraqi Kurdistan, and a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa advisory committee. He told Human Rights Watch that a young man dressed in black attacked him as he was leaving the newspaper office at 7 p.m. The assailant, who was waiting near Hardi’s car, knocked him to the ground with a blow to the back of the head with a pistol and continued beating him as he lay on the ground. Hardi was hospitalized and received 32 stitches for six wounds to his head.

“The attack on the respected journalist Asos Hardi is the latest example of the grave risks faced by independent media workers in Iraqi Kurdistan,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Kurdish authorities should act decisively to bring whoever is behind this attack to justice.”

Hardi told Human Rights Watch that he believes he was targeted for his work as a journalist. “I have never had any personal problems with anyone my whole life,” he said. “It is very clear that this attack is related to my job as an independent journalist and my vocal support for freedom.”

Xendan news media, a local news organization, reported on its website that Prime Minister Barham Salih of the Kurdistan Regional Government had ordered authorities in Sulaimaniya to investigate the attack. Police said they are investigating the incident and took a statement from Hardi.

Since the start of protests in Sulaimaniya on February 17 over widespread corruption and violations of civil and political rights, journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan have faced escalating attacks and threats, including from members of the government’s security forces. In March, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 journalists in Kurdistan and found that security forces and their proxies routinely repress journalists through threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and harassment, and by confiscating and destroying their equipment.

Hardi expressed concern that the government’s promised investigation will go nowhere. “There are many cases like this in Kurdistan,” Hardi told Human Rights Watch. “Police always say they investigate the attacks but no one is captured or tried.”

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