Iraq: Kurdish journalist detained, faces prosecution

New York, March 22, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the detention and prosecution of a Kurdish journalist, who was seized by Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq. On March 17, security forces affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) arrested Hawez Hawezi, a 31-year-old high school teacher who also writes for the independent Kurdish weekly Hawlati, at his home in Koya, near the city of Arbil, the newspaper’s managing editor Peshwaz Faizulla told CPJ.

Faizulla said the agents assaulted Hawezi while driving him to a detention facility in the city of Sulaymaniyah. The journalist was released on bail March 19 after being questioned by an investigating judge. The judge told the journalist he faced unspecified defamation charges for a recent article criticizing local Kurdish authorities, the editor said. In a column in the March 15 edition of Hawlati, Hawezi criticized the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the two main political parties in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region. The article accused both parties of governing northern Iraq badly, referring to them as Pharaohs. It called for new leadership in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We call on the authorities to dismiss this case at once,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Rather than pursue a journalist for doing his job the Kurdish authorities would do well to investigate those who assaulted our colleague Hawez Hawezi. Such arbitrary and heavy-handed treatment of the press by Kurdish authorities shows that their reputation for tolerance of free media is undeserved.”

PUK spokesman Azad Jundyany told CPJ that Hawezi had been detained by Kurdish security agents and faced trial for defamation. He said the PUK supported the due process of the courts in the case. “We oppose the imprisonment of journalists for what they write, or for expressing their opinions,” he said in a telephone interview from Iraq. “But there is writing and there is insult. There is a difference between the two,” he said. When asked what penalties Hawezi might face in court he said, “probably face a small fine.”

At least one Kurdish writer is in jail for his work in northern Iraq. Kamal Karim is currently serving a 30-year sentence for defamation after he was convicted in December by a state security court of defaming public institutions. Karim, an Austrian citizen, has been in detention since he was arrested on October 26, 2005 in Arbil by the Parastin, the security intelligence service of the ruling KDP. He had published articles on Kurdistanpost, an independent Kurdish news Web site, criticizing the KDP and its leader Masoud Barzani, whom he accused of corruption and abuse of power. Barzani is also president of the Kurdistan Region. Karim is appealing the verdict.