Iranian Consulate Denies Involvement in Disappearance of Pro-Israel Kurdish Journalis

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    Apr 20, 2012
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    Kirkuk - Kurdistan

    SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – After nearly four weeks, there are still no clues about the whereabouts of Mawloud Afand, editor-in-chief of Israel-Kurd magazine.

    Afand went missing after a trip to Sulaimani on June 8. He has been unreachable since then and his two mobile phones have been switched off.

    As speculations about the young Iranian Kurdish journalist increase, some of his friends suspect he has been kidnapped by Iranian intelligence agents. But officials at Iran’s Consulate General in Sulaimani deny that.

    Hamid Bodaghi, head of media relations for the Iranian Consulate in Sulaimani, told Rudaw they had no information about Afand.

    “We’ve seen that some newspapers in the Kurdistan Region are pointing fingers at the Islamic Republic. But this is only newspaper talk. They are not correct and the sources are fake,” said Bodaghi.

    An Iranian Kurd, Afand had been living in the Kurdistan Region for the past few years as a political refugee.

    Afand’s magazine runs regular interviews with Israeli experts commenting on Kurdish affairs or relations between the Jewish state and the Kurds. Afand’s disappearance has been also reported by the Israeli press.

    Israel-Kurd magazine is licensed by the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate and based in Erbil. Iran’s Consul in Erbil has objected to the publication of the magazine in the past.

    Anwar Hussein, of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate, told Rudaw, “We are continuing our follow-ups but have not gained any clues yet about his fate.”

    The Israel-Kurd Institute has now given Afand’s image to all checkpoints and airports in Kurdistan.

    “We have also filed a lawsuit in Sulaimani court. We have asked the judge to demand his phone records be checked,” said Sherzad Omer, head of public relations for the Israel-Kurd Institute.

    News of Afand’s disappearance was first publicized by Dawood Baghestani, the founder of the Israel-Kurd Institute who currently resides in Turkey.

    But early on, Omer announced that Afand had not been kidnapped and that Baghestani was no longer involved with the institute.

    Hawar Bazyan, a former colleague of Afand’s at the magazine, said the denial of his kidnapping by Omer “caused us to waste a lot of time.”

    “If it becomes clear that Afand has been detained by Iranians, then Omer will have a grave responsibility to shoulder,” said Bazyan, who now runs a Facebook campaign for information about Afand.

    Omer told Rudaw that they were not initially certain that Afand was abducted.

    “There were some coded references we used to inform each other about unusual situations. When I talked to him the day after (his trip to Sulaimani), he did not use any of those coded references. That is why we were assured he had not been abducted,” said Omer.

    Three days after Afand’s disappearance, Iranian intelligence announced through the state-affiliated Fars News that it had captured some officers and spies working for Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. That prompted Afand’s friends and colleagues to suspect he had been abducted by the Islamic Republic.

    In a second statement on June 28, Iranian intelligence announced it had arrested “a number of terrorists who belong to the occupying regime of Jerusalem,” in reference to Israel.

    “Some countries whose soil or population’s identity has been misused by terrorists working for Mossad have given our ministry’s representatives the necessary information,” read part of the statement.

    The statement also said, “A location used as a residence and military base for training Mossad terrorists has been uncovered in a neighboring region bordering our country.”

    The statement seems to be referring to the Kurdistan Region but it is still unclear if this can be construed as evidence that Iranian operatives kidnapped Afand.

    The Islamic Republic’s Intelligence Ministry also said that it had captured “planners of terrorist activities and trainers of terrorists, individuals in charge of technical relations and elements who transfer weapons.”

    The ministry promised to release more information in a near future.

    For his part, Baghestani issued a statement accusing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iranian intelligence of kidnapping Afand “because Itlaat (Iran’s intelligence service) has bases in Sulaimani and a lot of power in that area.”

    The PUK -- President Jalal Talabani’s party -- controls local administration and security in Sulaimani province.

    Local authorities in Sulaimani have said they are not aware of Afand’s whereabouts or what has happened to him.

    Bazyan said that the Israel-Kurd Institute had received three letters from the PUK asking them to shut down.

    “Once they handed a letter from the Islamic Republic to Mawloud Afand. They told him if he closed the institute, they would extend their cooperation and not take other measures. But Afand rejected their requests,” said Bazyan.

    He added, “Afand was continuously threatened by the PUK and the Islamic Republic of Iran. So now all the suspicion about his disappearance is centered on them.”

    In a letter dated July 22, 2010, Nazim Dabbagh, a member of the PUK and representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), informed then Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Salih that “our relatives once again have complained because the Israel-Kurd magazine was not supposed to be published in the Kurdistan Region anymore, but a new edition of the magazine has come out. We hope you will look into this.”

    The phrase “our relatives” appears to refer to Iranian officials.

    “Media outlets are free with what they write about or publish,” media officer of the Iranian consulate, Bodaghi told Rudaw. “But the fact of the matter is we are not aware of that journalist and know nothing about him.”

    Omer says there is “no evidence to prove Afand has been abducted.” According to him, Afand’s mobile phone was switched off on the day he travelled to Sulaimani but was working in the days that followed.

    “He answered us very normally and said he was in Sulaimani for personal business,” said Omer.

    The website of the Israel-Kurd Institute was hacked a few days after Afand’s disappearance. Omer says the hacker’s name was “Samuel Kermashani” and his IP address was in Sweden.

    “We consider that he may be a clue in Afand’s disappearance and intend to file a lawsuit against him through the Swedish Consulate in Erbil,” added Omer.

    Rudaw in English....The Happening: Latest News and Multimedia about Kurdistan, Iraq and the World - Iranian Consulate Denies Involvement in Disappearance of Pro-Israel Kurdish Journalist

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