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CPJ alarmed by press violations in Iraqi Kurdistan

In a letter to the prime minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government, CPJ calls attention to the deterioration of press freedom in Kurdistan and the alarming wave of politically motivated criminal lawsuits filed against mostly independent journalists, as well as blatant violations of the region's new press law.

(CPJ/IFEX)

May 5, 2009

His Excellency Nechirvan Barzani
Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government
Office of the Kurdistan Regional Government
1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 210
Washington, D.C. 20006

Via facsimile: (202) 637-2723

Dear Prime Minister Barzani,

The Committee to Protect Journalists would like to bring to your attention the deterioration of press freedom in Kurdistan. There has been an alarming wave of politically motivated criminal lawsuits filed against mostly independent journalists as well as blatant violations of the region's new press law. The law has no provisions for jail terms for journalists, but journalists are still being imprisoned.

CPJ is encouraged by some steps your government has taken to boost press freedom in Kurdistan, including the passage of the press law in September 2008. On April 27, local press reported on a decision made by Qadir Hama Jan, director of Sulaymania security forces (Asaish), to drop all lawsuits filed by Asaish against journalists in Sulaymania province. CPJ welcomes this decision and encourages all government agencies to follow this example.

On April 29, the first court hearing of the trial of at least two suspects who have been charged with plotting to murder Ahmed Mira, editor-in-chief of the Sulaymania-based magazine Livin, was held. Mira told CPJ that when the news of the arrests was reported by the Kurdish press in October 2008 you had contacted him to express your support for his case. We appreciate your support. CPJ is closely following the trial and has called on the relevant authorities to ensure that it is fair and public.

Despite these positive steps, however, Zirak Kamal of the Kurdistan Journalists' Syndicate told CPJ that since January the organization has documented 31 lawsuits against journalists in the region, of which 26 have been filed under the defunct 1969 penal code. CPJ research indicates that more than 50 lawsuits have been filed against journalists this year alone.

CPJ is particularly alarmed by the April 23 lawsuit filed by the minister of Martyrs and Anfal affairs, Chinar Sa'd, against Nabaz Goran, editor-in-chief of Jehan magazine, on defamation charges in which she demands 1 billion Iraqi dinars (US$859,000) for alleged damage to her reputation. The case stemmed from a news article in which the magazine reported that the minister had taken a two-month trip to London. The minister's office had confirmed the information to the magazine. Goran also faces no less than 17 other charges for publishing various articles in the press of which four have been filed in 2009. Most of those lawsuits have been filed by government and party officials. We call on you to urge the relevant government officials and agencies to drop these politically motivated lawsuits.

The implementation of the new press law has not been without problem. One of the high points of the press law is that it does not prescribe jail as a punishment for journalists who are charged with press offenses. However, CPJ research has uncovered several cases where judges have simply ignored the press law, instead charging and convicting journalists under the 1969 Iraqi penal code.

To read the full letter, see: http://cpj.org/2009/05/cpj-alarmed-by-press-violations-in-iraqi-kurdistan.php

Committee to Protect Journalists is a New York-based, non profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom around the world.

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