Journalist on trial for defamation missing for five days

New York, September 7, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports that an Iraqi journalist on trial for defamation has been missing since Sunday morning.

A source told CPJ that Ahmed Mutair Abbas, managing editor of the defunct daily Sada Wasit in the southern city of Kut, called Sunday morning to say that he was on his way from Kut to Baghdad to attend his trial hearing. The journalist never appeared in court, forcing the trial to be postponed until September 11.

According to Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, an Iraqi press freedom organization run by local journalists, Abbas’ family and close friends have not heard from the journalist over the past five days.

“We are worried about the safety of Ahmed Mutair Abbas,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We urge Iraqi authorities to do their utmost to locate our missing colleague.”

Abbas along with Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi, editor-in-chief of Sada Wasit, are facing more than 10 years in prison and heavy fines if convicted under article 226 of the Iraqi penal code of defaming local police and judicial officials in three 2005 articles. The trial began late last year in Kut, but the defendants won a change of venue to Baghdad because one of the charges was brought by a local judge.

At least four other journalists are missing, including two who were abducted in August.

Earlier this week, Agence France-Presse reported that Bilal Taleb Abdelrahman al- Obeidi, a stringer for the agency and a journalist for the daily Al-Siyada, was abducted on August 14 after visiting his cousin at a detention center near the interior ministry in central Baghdad. The journalist’s family and AFP have been in contact with the kidnappers using his cell phone. The kidnappers demanded only recharge codes for their own cell phones, the agency reported. Al-Obeidi reported from the city of Ramadi in Anbar province, a hotbed of violence.

On August 15, Seif Abd al-Jabbar al-Tamimi, an editor for Al-Akha’ newspaper, which is affiliated with the Iraqi National Turkoman Party, was seized in Baghdad’s al-Adil neighborhood, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory. The abductors, driving an Opel car, sped west of Baghdad with al-Tamimi, the organization reported, quoting eyewitnesses.

CPJ is investigating the circumstances behind both of these abductions.

Armed groups have kidnapped at least 41 other journalists in Iraq since April 2004, CPJ research shows. Journalists Marwan Ghazal and Reem Zaeed, from the privately owned television station Samaria TV, were taken by gunmen in Baghdad’s Yarmouk district on February 1, and remain missing. The other journalists were eventually freed, but six were killed.