Iraqi death threat editor refused refuge

A journalist who fled his home in Iraqi Kurdistan fearing for his life has been refused refuge in Britain.

Faraidoon Hamza Sabir is living in Leeds awaiting deportation back to his own country.

He came to Britain in September 2009, to ask for political asylum.

Mr Sabir, 30, was a mathematics teacher but moved into journalism.

"I lived in Kircuk and began writing for newspapers there – Hawlati and Awene," he said. "I wrote articles criticising the leading political parties. The two parties control the region's security forces."

He edited another newspaper, Tak.

He said that following publication of the articles he began to receive threats by telephone. His home was visited by men looking for him while he was out.

Fearing for his life he fled to Britain.

In evidence, Mr Sabir produced letters of support for his application from the Kurdistan journalists' union, and a letter confirming his editorship of Tak.

His application was rejected, as was an appeal, and he was accused of fabricating the threats against him.

However, the independent human rights organisation Human Rights Watch says that Kurdistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, and that journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan who criticize the regional government have faced substantial violence and threats, and even murder, and some have fled the country.

The group said that one journalist, Sardasht Osman, was murdered after writing articles criticising the Government of Kurdistan.

Human Rights Watch said: "On May 4, 2010, assailants abducted Osman, a 23-year-old freelance journalist and student, at the entrance of his college in Arbil. His body was found a day later on a road near Mosul, with signs of torture and two bullets in the head.

Friends and family believe Osman died because he criticised the region's two governing parties, their leaders, and the region's ingrained patronage system.

A family member who saw his body said that he had been shot in the mouth, which he and other local Kurdish journalists told Human Rights Watch they interpreted as a message to the media to "be quiet".

In response to Osman's murder, 75 Kurdish journalists, editors, and intellectuals issued a statement that held the regional government responsible for his death.

Human Rights Watch spoke with four other journalists who fled northern Iraq after receiving threats following critical articles about the two leading political parties.

The UK Border Agency refuses to comment on individual cases. But in its findings on Mr Shabir it stated: "It is considered that you are not at risk on return to your home."

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