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Lawsuits, violence by security forces now daily events for journalists, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Iraqi journalists are now often sued by politicians and public figures while at the same time targeted in physical attacks, in many cases carried out by members of the security forces, including the bodyguards of leading politicians.

"These practices, which are designed to intimidate journalists and censor the media, constitute serious violations of freedom of expression and must stop at once," Reporters Without Borders said.


In one of the latest cases, the local daily "Baghdad Al-Akhbariya" was sued for 250 million dinars (150,000 euros) in damages before a court responsible for media issues in the southeastern Baghdad district of Rusafa in an action brought by the director-general of the industry ministry's Institute of Engineering on 2 July 2011. The case concerns the paper's publishing of a complaint by a group of employees and documents pointing to possible corruption within the institute. A judge dismissed the case in a hearing on 13 July.

Many journalists attended a 4 July hearing in a legal action brought by Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Al-Mawla, the head of the Iraqi organisation that arranges Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca, against journalist Majid Al-Kaabi for 2 billion dinars (1.2 million euros) in damages over an article criticising these pilgrimages. Kaabi testified that his article did not attack any public figure or political party and that it was the media's duty to point out errors in the organisation of the pilgrimages. The trial was adjourned until 25 July.

Baghdad military command spokesman Gen. Qassem Atta announced on 20 June that he was suing Fakhri Karim, the editor of the daily "Al-Mada", and three of his journalists - Daoud Ali, Ali Hussein and Ali Abdel Sada - for 8 million dinars (4,800 euros) in damages in a libel suit over opinion pieces criticising the behaviour of the security forces during demonstrations.

Politicians who have brought legal actions designed to gag the media include Chamber of Representatives speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi, who sued "Al-Mada"'s editor and two of his journalists, Daoud Ali and Ali Hussein, for 150 million dinars (90,000 euros) in damages on 2 June for articles criticising the maintenance of quotas in the selection of parliamentarians, bargaining over posts and the shortcomings of a law cutting parliamentarians' pay.

The industry and resources ministry's press office threatened to sue the satellite TV station Al-Sharqiya for blaming the ministry on 10 May for the previous week's murder of cement company boss Salam Abdallah, who had threatened, a few days before his death, to release documents proving the existence of corruption within the ministry.

In a 21 May press release, Reporters Without Borders condemned the libel suit that Faraj Haidari, the president of Iraq's electoral commission, brought against Hashem Hassan over an article he wrote for the 4 May issue of the newspaper "Al-Mashreq" in which he questioned the commission's legitimacy and professionalism, referred to corruption allegations and accused it of wasting public funds. Haidari announced that he was withdrawing his suit on 2 June.

Reporters Without Borders has also noted new forms of intimidation. Kadhi Miqdadi was expelled from the Union of Journalists on 4 July as a result of an article criticising its effectiveness.

Click here to read the full press release

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