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News website latest target in government's offensive against independent media

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Iraqi government's continuing legal offensive against independent news media, which for the first time is also targeting Internet media. As a result of a lawsuit brought by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Baghdad court ordered the Iraqi news website Kitabat to pay 1 billion dinars (630,000 euros) in damages on 18 May 2009.

Although based in Germany, Kitabat uses reports provided by many correspondents inside Iraq and the ruling threatens its ability to continuing operating.

"The Iraqi government must stop this campaign against independent media," Reporters Without Borders said. "After bringing many lawsuits against newspapers and TV stations, websites are now being targeted, even those based abroad. This damages award of 630,000 euros is a threat to Kitabat's survival."

The prime minister's lawsuit was prompted by a January article by reporter Ali Hussein accusing his chief of staff of using his position to get jobs for his relatives. At the prosecutor's request, the judge ordered Kitabat editor Ayad al-Zamili - who is a political refugee in Germany and could not attend the trial - to pay 1 billion dinars in "major material and financial damages."

"The court's decision is based on a 1969 law that takes no account of what is written on the Internet," Zamili told Reporters Without Borders. "The lawsuit is further evidence of the prime minister's desire to reduce press freedom to the minimum." Zamili said he would not appeal because he feared for his safety if he had to return to Iraq.

The government secretary general revealed on 20 May 2009 that another defamation suit is going to be brought against Zamili and one of his reporters, Emad al-Ebadi, over an article about government corruption.

Launched in 2002, Kitabat is now regarded as one of the leading news websites for coverage of Iraq.

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