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Star journalist sued by head of electoral commission

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the libel suit that Faraj Haidari, the president of Iraq's electoral commission, has brought against Hashem Hassan, a journalist who once had a very high profile and who was jailed under Saddam Hussein. He now heads the University of Baghdad's media department.

Haidari is demanding 2 billion dinars (1.2 million euros) in damages for an article Hassan wrote for the 4 May issue of the newspaper "Al-Mashreq". It questioned the commission's legitimacy and professionalism, referred to corruption allegations and accused it of wasting public funds.

"It is not reasonable to spend millions of dollars on people who work for just one month every four years, during elections," the article said.

Hassan was summoned to appear before a court in the southeast Baghdad district of Rusafa on 22 May. Although the lawsuit was filed on 11 May, he was unaware of it until he received the summons on 19 May. This gave him little time to prepare his defence. The amount of damages sought by Haidari is permitted by Iraq's publications law.

Reporters Without Borders regards this prosecution as a direct violation of free speech and media freedom and calls for its withdrawal. It would be unacceptable if Hassan were to be convicted over an opinion piece.

The press freedom organisation will pay close attention to the way the Iraqi courts handle this case.

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