In advance of its first annual event later this year the Kurdistan Social Forum (KSF), founded in September 2016, is looking to expand its membership. The KSF is reaching out to civil society organizations and activists across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Many activists, unions and CSOs would like to join the KSF, but the process is not always easy: Kurdish authorities are increasingly limiting the operations of civil society, NGOs and freedom of expression in general. Organizations can face restrictions from the security services such as legal obstacles, routine procedures, interventions in activities and questions. Activists face harassment and abuse – see the report of Peace and Freedom Organization (PFO) earlier this year. This is why the KSF is currently mostly working on improving freedom of expression in the Kurdistan Region. The Forum is meeting with relevant authorities, monitoring violations and providing legal support. In April the KSF held a meeting with the Kurdish parliamentary committees for human rights, civil society and media to discuss the decreasing space for civil society to operate. They also met with the Independent Commission for Human Rights to inform them about the establishment of the KSF.
In May the KSF started collecting signatures to support freedom of expression in the Kurdistan Region. The campaign was launched in Erbil and continues in Duhok and Slemani. Following the arrests of an NRT channel director and reporter, the KSF released a statement in June, requesting the judiciary in the Kurdistan Region to defend the freedom of expression and call for a dialogue between journalists, activists and legal authorities. A coalition of lawyers was assembled who offer free legal support to journalists and activists whose freedom of expression is violated. The main instrument of the lawyers is the Kurdish journalist law, which is not always correctly applied. In Kalar the KSF met with the court of Kalar, and succeeded in getting the NRT Director Mr. Awat to be released. When one of the lawyers in this coalition worked on the case of Aram Bakhtiyar (NRT channel), the reporter was released too. Currently the lawyer team is working on another case. The KSF has called on its Facebook page for people to submit other cases and continues to offer support.