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Northeast Syrian authorities close down Kurdish news outlet

Tensions are running high between Kurdish political parties in the region following clashes in neighboring Iraq.

Northeast Syrian officials closed down the Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Kurdistan 24 on Sunday, contributing to worsening relations between Kurdish parties in Syria and Iraq. 

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said that Kurdistan 24 “published hate speech” and “sowed discord among the Kurdish people.” As a result, authorities revoked the registration of Kurdistan 24’s office, the administration said in a press release. 

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which some Kurds refer to as Rojava, is a self-governing region in northeast Syria. The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is the political leadership of the region and its main military force is the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is one of of the main participants in the SDC. 

The administration did not specify which of Kurdistan 24’s content constituted hate speech. 

Many Kurdish journalists consider Kurdistan 24 to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and it is normal for outlets in Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan to be tied to the major political parties

Kurdistan 24 immediately criticized the Autonomous Administration’s decision in a Sunday statement. 

“Kurdistan 24 has reported on the situation in Rojava impartially and professionally; hindering our work is in violation of press freedom,” the outlet said. 

The closure comes at a time of high intra-Kurdish tensions. In neighboring Iraq, several Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces known as Peshmerga were killed by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) forces on June 5.

The PKK, which fights Turkey for greater Kurdish rights there, has long based itself in KRG territory on the mountainous border with Turkey. The KDP, which is the largest in the KRG, particularly opposes the PKK presence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Turkey also conducts military operations against the PKK in KRG and federal Iraqi territory, further exacerbating the tensions. The United States and Turkey list the PKK as a terrorist organization.

In February, a KRG court jailed five activists and journalists for "spying and attempts of coup d'etat and disorder." The five were protesting delayed salaries and deteriorating living conditions in the region. 

Intra-Kurdish political relations in Iraq and Syria are intertwined. The PYD is linked historically and ideologically with the PKK, though the PYD's agenda is focused on Syria, not Turkey.

The KDP also has support in northeast Syria and is close to the Kurdish National Council in the country. Unity talks between the PYD and the council last year have since stalled

Kurdistan 24 accused unnamed “influential groups” of being behind the decision. 

“We recognize that Rojava officials — who understand Kurdistan 24's message of social unity and reconciliation in Rojava—may very well have been pressured by influential groups in the area to shut down our bureau,” read the statement. 

This is not the first time Kurdistan 24 has been banned in northeast Syria. The same thing happened in 2019. 

Some Kurdish journalists also criticized the administration over the decision. The press freedom group Metro Center based in Sulaimaniyah likewise condemned the ban in a statement on Monday. 

Relatedly, the KRG has taken actions against PKK affiliates in its territory as well in the past. In 2018, Kurdistan Region security forces closed the offices of a PKK-aligned party. 

Press freedom remains an issue throughout Kurdish parts of the Middle East. The KRG shut down some offices of the pro-opposition news outlet Nalia Radio and Television in last August. They reopened later that year. 

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