A pricey one that cost him his life.
May 2013 - third anniversary
Egyptian satirist, Besam Yusuf, was arrested in March this year (later freed on bail) over charges of insulting the Egyptian President. Prior to that, Qatari poet, Mohammad Rashid al-Ajami, was sentenced for life in prison in February 2013 (sentence later reduced to 15 years) on charges of inciting to overthrow the Qatari Government. These seem harsh punishments for free speech, similar to the ones for criticizing Holocaust or Zionism in the West. But they appear humane compared to the fate of 22-year-old Sardasht Osman, a poet, journalist and student of English literature at the University of Mosul, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Free speech in Iraqi Kurdistan? Don't even think of it.
Sardasht Osman was an outspoken critic of the massive corruption by Massoud Barazani (President of Iraqi Kurdistan) and his government. He received several death threats. In May 2010, a group of armed men entered the University campus, kidnapped Sardasht in broad daylight, beat him, dragged him into a van and drove off. He was found dead a couple of days later. His body was dumped on the roadside with two bullets in his head. Some reports say he was shot twice in the mouth, a symbol of revenge for speaking up. No one doubts the young man paid the price for not giving up on free speech.
He had contributed many articles and poems exposing the endless corruption within the government of his country. His works and the style of his writing were exceedingly popular. One of his latest poems, a satirical piece he wrote for the Kurdistan Post, was most likely the direct cause of his murder. Titled "I love Massoud Barazani's daughter" (known as "the poem that kills"), Osman portrays himself as Barazani's "son-in-law" and how that would change his life from a commoner struggling to survive to a man immersed in luxuries.
The Government of Iraqi Kurdistan is supported staunchly by Western leaders. That explains why an incident as tragic as this never got any international coverage in the Western media, not even in the circle of Western journalists.
The poem quoted below is all-inclusive, and amusing too. It gives a vivid picture of the depth of corruption festering within the government of Iraqi Kurdistan as in many Arab puppet states. The original is in Kurdish. This is the English translation. That may have disrupted some of its rhythm and flow. However, it's a poem and not a prose.
"I LOVE MASSOUD BARAZANI'S DAUGHTER"
By Sardasht Osman (taken from Niqash.org .. link below)
I love Massoud Barazani's daughter. I want Massoud Barazani be my father-in-law. He is the man who appears in public occasionally, telling the people he is their president.
I want Nechirvan Barazani (Massoud Barazani's nephew and former head of the KRG) to be my brother-in-law.
Once I become Barazani's son-in-law, I will take his daughter to Paris and spend one month on honeymoon with her. We will visit our uncle's house in the USA too.
I will be able to move house. I will live in Sari Rash resort (Barazani's palace complex) and will be guarded all night long by US police trained dogs and Israeli guards.
I will be able to look after my father. He served as a Peshmerga during the September Revolution led by Mulla Mustafa Barazani (Massoud's father). He left the KDP afterwards, so they don't pay him his veterans' pension. I will appoint my father Peshmerga Minister
I will be able to sort things out for my brother too. He completed college but now he is unemployed and is seeking political asylum outside of Iraq. He can take charge of my personal guards. As for my sister, who is too scared to leave the house alone to visit the marketplace, she will be behind the wheels of the fanciest cars. She will drive cars similar to those currently driven by the Barazani tribe.
I will be able to take care of my mother who suffers from heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. We cannot afford to send her outside of Iraq for treatment. I will bring Italian medical specialists to take care of her without having to move.
For my uncles, hospitality houses will be opened and my cousins will become university deans, army brigades' commanders and heads of associations and unions.
All my friends said, "Saro, don't do this. The Mulla's family can end your life any time they want to." I told them I did not commit blasphemy and I swear to the dagger of (Massoud's late brother) Mustafa Idris Barazani that my father spent three nights with him on the same mountain (during the fight against Saddam) and so why not say those things? The poor of this region are being let down by Massoud Barazani who continues to claim he is our president. How many times has he visited one of the poor neighbourhoods of Erbil or Sulaymaniyah in the last 18 years?
My problem with Barazani is that he is totally driven by tribal allegiances. Nothing matters to him apart from looking after his family. With one click on the internet, I can find the names of the wives of all presidents of all countries on earth. The name of my future mother-in-law remains a mystery, however.
When I propose, who should I take with me? Maybe some old mullas or peshmirga veterans? I told myself I should just trust God and go for it. But a friend of mine, another journalist, had a better idea.
"Search for the Kurds who collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime. Search for the traitors who were involved in the Anfal massacres and take them with you. Massoud Barazani adores such people."
Another friend said Nechirvan Barazai was the man to get close to.
"Go whisper in his ear when he's at a press conference. Tell him there is a personal issue you want to discuss with him," he said. "If not, then Dashni (a popular Kurdish singer). She can arrange everything. She spends a lot of time with the Barazani family."
Sardasht Osman wasn't the only journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan to have met such a fate. The practice of brutally targeting journalists who dare to speak has happened several times in that country and reportedly getting worse. Sardasht was a very brave young man. He knew that some day he would be killed. He was advised by many to leave Iraqi Kurdistan, but he refused. He said he was ready to face death but wouldn't give up on exposing the truth. You can also read another web-piece written by him at Niqash.org titled "My death knell rings" in which he has almost predicted his death.