New York, March 29, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority’s (CPA) closure of an Iraqi weekly newspaper for allegedly inciting violence against coalition forces.
On March 28, dozens of U.S. troops sealed the offices of the Baghdad weekly Al-Hawza, which is affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and ordered the paper closed for 60 days. A letter signed by CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer was hand-delivered by a CPA spokesman to the paper’s staff, saying that the publication had violated a CPA decree promulgated last June that prohibits “incitement” in the media. Specifically, the letter said the paper had published “many articles” containing false information and intended to “disturb public order and incite violence against the coalition forces and the employees of the CPA.”
Specifically, the letter mentioned a February 26 Al-Hawza article about a deadly car bomb in a Shiite city south of Baghdad that the article said was actually a rocket fired by a U.S. Apache helicopter. It also cited an article in the same paper’s edition, titled “Bremer Follows the Steps of Saddam,” which alleged that the CPA was “implementing a policy of starving the Iraqi public.” The letter also stated past examples of what the CPA says was the paper’s false reporting in two articles from August 2003. One article accused the United States of waging a war on Islam, and the other said the United States wanted to steal Iraqi oil rather than depose Saddam Hussein.
The letter said that these “false articles not only mislead readers but constitute a real threat to violence against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens who cooperate with the coalition in the reconstruction of Iraq.”
CPA spokesman Alaaeddin Elsadr told CPJ that Al-Hawza could appeal the closure decision, however, he did not make clear the procedures for doing so, other than stating that the newspaper could phone him to openly discuss the matter.
“The CPA’s abrupt and dramatic closure of Al-Hawza sends a disturbing message about respect for press freedom and due process,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “This is the wrong message to convey, especially as Iraqis are working toward restoration of their political sovereignty.”
Last July, the CPA closed the publication Al-Mustaqaillah, which had cited the calls of Islamic clerics for the death of “spies” who cooperate with U.S. troops. The clerics said killing spies was a religious duty.
In January 2004, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) barred the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera from covering official IGC activities. The action came in response to an Al-Jazeera talk show in which a guest leveled allegations that some IGC members have had relations with Israel or visited the country.
In November 2003, the IGC banned United Arab Emirates–based satellite channel Al-Arabiyya from broadcasting in Iraq, accusing the station of incitement after it aired an audiotape purportedly of Saddam Hussein urging Iraqis to resist the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The station was allowed to resume broadcasting in late January.
And in September 2003, the IGC barred reporters from both Al-Arabiyya and Al-Jazeera from covering official press conferences and from entering official buildings for two weeks because the IGC said that the channels incite “sectarian differences in Iraq,” “political violence,” and the murders of council and U.S. coalition members.