The Committee to Protect Journalists wishes to express its grave concern about the criminal prosecution of Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi and Ahmed Mutair Abbas, editor-in-chief and managing editor respectively of the now-defunct Iraqi daily Sada Wasit, a local newspaper in the southern city of Kut. Both men face more than 10 years in prison or heavy fines if convicted of four separate defamation charges brought by local government officials in Wasit Province in response to critical articles that they published in 2005.
Al-Tamimi and Abbas, are charged under article 226 of the Iraqi penal code of defaming local police and the judiciary. Their trial is set for December 25, 2005.
The Judiciary Council brought a defamation charge over one article titled "The Men of the Judiciary and Judges of Bremer," which compared Iraq's judicial system today with that of the former Baathist regime.
Police brought a charge over another article about an Iraqi allegedly abducted by Iraqi Special Forces. When the family of the abducted man went to City Hall to inquire about his whereabouts they, too, were arrested.
A third story, based on an article in the Washington Post, discussed corruption in the Iraqi police force. The last article sparked separate judicial complaints from the police and former Wasit governor Mohammed Ridha al-Jashaamy.
The criminal charges against al-Tammimi and Abbas are part of a larger pattern of judicial harassment. In 2004, Abbas and al-Tammimi were jailed for seven months and five months respectively, in response to separate articles they wrote that allegedly defamed al-Jashaamy by criticizing his governorship.
A free press is a cornerstone of democracy and in order for it to function properly, journalists must be able to carry out their jobs without interference from authorities and the fear of imprisonment. Journalists should never be imprisoned for what they write. If individuals feel that their reputations have been harmed they should have recourse to civil, not criminal, remedies.
We believe the criminal prosecution of Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi and Ahmed Mutair Abbas sends a troubling message to all Iraqi journalists. If both men are sentenced to jail it would deal a serious blow to press freedoms in Iraq. We therefore call on you to assert your leadership and examine all possible legal options to ensure that that the criminal charges against them is dismissed and that they no longer face the threat of imprisonment for their work.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.