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Journalist faces libel suit after writing about sports complex irregularities

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders voices its full support for Ziyad Al-Ajily, a reporter and head of the Journalistic Freedom Observatory (JFO), who is due to appear in court on a libel charge on 21 October 2010 in connection with an article he wrote for the newspaper "Al-Aalem" in July. The article detailed problems related to the construction of a major sports complex in the southern city of Basra.

JFO, an NGO that defends media freedom, is the Reporters Without Borders partner organisation in Iraq.

In an action brought under article 111 of the criminal code on 26 September, the ministry of youth and sports is suing Ajily and the newspaper's publisher for 1 billion Iraqi dinars (615,530 euros) in damages. They are being tried before a special court for publication and communication offences.

Headlined "Call for responsibility," the article quoted a report by engineers as saying the buildings envisaged and the material utilised did not correspond to what was initially envisaged and that the "execution of the project without a detailed second survey could lead to a catastrophe." The project, which was initiated by the ministry of youth and sports, was originally budgeted at US$500 million.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the ministry of youth and sports to withdraw its lawsuit. The amount of damages requested is so exorbitant it cannot be taken seriously. The judicial authorities should be examining the problems exposed in the article rather than hearing an absurd complaint by a ministry that clearly cannot tolerate media investigation of its activities.

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