Weekly newspaper allowed to resume publishing

New York, July 20, 2004—Iraq’s interim government has allowed a weekly newspaper closed by U.S. occupation authorities in March to resume publishing.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued a decree on July 18 allowing for the reopening of Al-Hawza, a Baghdad weekly affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.
A spokesman for al-Sadr said the newspaper will resume publishing shortly.

On March 28, 2004, dozens of U.S. troops sealed Al-Hawza‘s offices and ordered the paper closed for 60 days for allegedly inciting violence against coalition forces. A letter signed by former Coalition Provisional Authority (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 in June 2003 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.”

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.”

Al-Hawza’s closure triggered widespread protests among al-Sadr’s followers and several weeks’ of clashes with U.S. forces ensued.

For more information, see CPJ’s March 29 alert.