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Journalist freed in Mosul after being held for a month; press freedom situation continues to deteriorate in Iraqi Kurdistan, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has welcomed the release of Faisal Abbas Ghazala, a correspondent for the satellite TV station Kolsat, on 21 December 2007 after more than a month in detention in Mosul, but called on the Kurdistan regional government to show greater care and moderation in its measures affecting the news media.

"Journalists are being subjected to more and more restrictions in Iraqi Kurdistan, which was until now regarded as a haven of peace and safety for the press," the organisation said. "The regional government has used the recent clashes between the Turkish army and PKK rebels based in Iraq to restrict journalists' movements and activities. The draft press law recently adopted by the Kurdish parliament would, if ratified by President Barzani, be a very retrograde step."

Accused of "terrorism", Ghazala, 34, spent a total of 31 days detained in different locations. He was arrested by Kurdish security forces who stormed his home in Mosul early in the morning on 19 November and dragged him from his bed. He was held in two different police stations before being transferred to Dohuk prison near Mosul.

Ghazala told Reporters Without Borders he did not understand why he had been targeted. "They entered my home with an arrest warrant without taking the trouble to send me a previous summons, to which I would have definitely responded," he said. "They then held me for more than 30 days without being able to charge me. Iraqi journalists not only have to endure violence from militias and armed groups but also state terrorism."

While held, Ghazala was questioned by his coverage of bombings that had taken place in the region.

On 19 November, the Kurdish regional government banned journalists from going to meet PKK rebels who have found refuge in the Qandil mountains on the border between Iraq and Turkey. The Euphrates News Agency (FHA) reported that Kurdish Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani met with media representatives a few days later and asked them not to publish articles "running counter to Turkish interests."

On 11 December, the Kurdish national assembly approved a new draft law introducing heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences (see IFEX alerts of 17 and 14 December and 6 November 2007). The law has to be ratified by President Massoud Barzani in order to take effect. The president told representatives of the Kurdish Union of Journalists that he was going to reject the law and would ask parliament to amend it. But for the time being, nothing has been decided.

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