ERBIL, Iraq — A Kurdish journalist was kidnapped here in the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, tortured and then found dead with two bullets in the head on a highway, his family and members of the security forces said on Thursday.
The family and friends of the journalist, Zardasht Osman, 23, said he was killed because of his scathing articles about the region’s two governing parties and its leaders, including the dominant Barzani family. Mr. Osman was a university student who freelanced for a number of publications and often wrote on the Internet under a pseudonym.
“I am in love with Barzani’s daughter,” read a satirical and irreverent Web post by Mr. Osman in December, which appeared to violate a taboo in the region’s deeply conservative and clan-based culture by referring to a female family member of the region’s president, Massoud Barzani. Mr. Osman mused about how he could rise from his poor surroundings by marrying one of Mr. Barzani’s daughters.
Some Kurdish journalists and Mr. Osman’s friends accused members of the security forces, which are controlled by the parties, of direct involvement in the crime.
The killing of a journalist has been rare in the Kurdish region, at least in recent years. The authorities have worked hard to ensure a haven for business and oil and gas investments, where thousands of foreigners, including American citizens, live and work freely.
But security forces are often accused of intimidating, threatening and assaulting journalists affiliated with opposition parties or critical of the corrupt patronage system fostered by the two governing parties.
“This work is beyond the capability of one person or one small group,” read a statement issued on Thursday and signed by 75 Kurdish journalists, editors and intellectuals.
“We believe the Kurdistan regional government and its security forces are responsible first and foremost and they are supposed to do everything in order to find this evil hand.”
There was no reaction from the local government. But an official with Erbil’s police department, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the news media, condemned the killing and said the results of an investigation would be announced shortly.
According to relatives and friends, Mr. Osman was abducted by men in a white minibus immediately after he was dropped off Tuesday morning by his brother Sardar opposite the main entrance of the liberal arts college ofthe University of Salahaddin. He was to have graduated from the university in June with a degree in English.
Sardar Osman, who said he did not see the kidnapping, said that his brother got out in front of the Fine Arts Institute, where at least half a dozen soldiers from the well-trained Zerevani unit of the Kurdish pesh merga armed force guard the gate at all times.
A member of this force on duty that day, Khawer Hassan, said the street was “too crowded” for him to witness anything.
Mr. Hassan said students told him that Mr. Osman had been kidnapped. He said he informed the institute’s dean, who came out and picked up Mr. Osman’s books and notebooks, which were strewn on the street.
Sardar Osman said the family received a call on Wednesday informing them that Mr. Osman’s body had been dumped in front of the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two governing parties, in the eastern section of the city of Mosul, about 50 miles west of Erbil.
He was among the family members who went to Mosul on Thursday to bring back Mr. Osman’s body.
“Who can do this except the security and government forces?” asked a tearful Hawjin Sabah, 22, as she and friends of Mr. Osman’s took part in an emotional funeral procession on campus.
Two of Mr. Osman’s friends held up a banner asking: “Who’s responsible?”
Friends and relatives asked how Mr. Osman could have been kidnapped from the heart of a tightly secured city and taken out of Erbil past numerous checkpoints, including one maintained by American soldiers.
Another brother, Beshdar Osman, said that his brother received a threatening phone call in January, telling him to leave Erbil. “The reason was his writing,” he said.
Renas Salam, a friend, said Mr. Osman received another threat in April from a caller saying that he had “one week to leave Erbil or he would be killed.”
Mr. Osman had been writing for almost two years under the pseudonym Saro Zardasht for the Sweden-based Kurdistanpost, known for its satirical articles critical of the two governing parties and its leaders. Mr. Osman’s last article was about the “failure” of Kosrat Rasoul, a senior leader in thePatriotic Union of Kurdistan — the party of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani — which has been losing ground over the past year to a splinter reform movement known as Gorran.
He also started working five months ago for an Erbil-based magazine called Samal Post and contributed several articles to Hawlati, an independent newspaper based in the region’s other main city, Sulaimaniya.
The last killing of an Iraqi Kurdish journalist was in 2008 in the Kurdish-controlled section of the city of Kirkuk, south of Erbil. Many journalists blamed security forces of the two governing parties for that killing.
Since then Kurdish journalists have continued to be harassed, threatened and physically assaulted by security forces. There were 357 such violations last year, according to the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists.