Iraq: Journalists from Kurdish weekly face arrest, trial

New York, May 2, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the recent arrests and criminal prosecutions for defamation of three journalists with the independent Kurdish weekly Hawlati in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

On Tuesday, a criminal court in the city of Sulaymaniyah sentenced Twana Osman, editor-in-chief of Hawlati, and Asos Hardi, the paper’s former editor, to six-month suspended jail terms and fines of 75,000 dinars each (US$50), Hawlati managing editor Peshwaz Faizulla told CPJ. Faizulla said both editors were compelled to sign a statement that they would not commit defamation again.

The editors published an article on October 12, 2005, alleging that Prime Minister Omer Fatah ordered the dismissal of two telephone company employees after they cut his phone line for failing to pay a bill. The court ruled that the article was defamatory because it was the regional communications minister and not the prime minister who fired the two workers. Faizulla told CPJ that the communications minister had signed an affidavit stating that the prime minister had called him and asked him to start an investigation into the cutting of his phone line.

Another Hawlati journalist faces criminal prosecution, Faizulla said. Hawez Hawezi, a 31-year-old high school teacher who writes for Hawlati, was summoned by Sulaymaniyah security forces on Saturday and arrested. He was transferred to a jail in Koya, near the city of Arbil. His arrest follows an article he wrote criticizing his treatment by security forces when he was held March 17-19 for a separate report critical of the region’s two main political parties. Hawezi, who had been free on bail since March, had accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of governing the region badly, referring to them as pharaohs. Hawezi now faces charges of defamation for both articles.

“These punitive actions underscore what’s become an increasingly troubling press freedom climate in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region,” said CPJ executive Director Ann Cooper. “If Kurdish officials are as serious about press freedom as they say, then they will ensure that these criminal charges against these journalists are dismissed, that Hawez Hawezi is freed, and that this bullying of independent media is stopped at once.”