Three Iraqi journalists face trial on defamation charges

New York, September 1, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the ongoing criminal prosecution of three Iraqi journalists whose trial on defamation charges resumes in Baghdad on Sunday.

Editor-in-Chief Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi and Managing Editor Ahmed Mutair Abbas of the now-defunct Iraqi daily Sada Wasit, a local newspaper in the southern city of Kut, face more than 10 years in prison and heavy fines if convicted of four separate defamation charges.

Al-Tamimi and Abbas were charged under article 226 of the Iraqi penal code of defaming local police and judicial officials in three 2005 articles. The Judiciary Council brought a defamation charge over an article that compared Iraq’s judicial system with that of the former Baathist regime. Police filed a charge over an article describing an alleged abduction by Iraqi Special Forces. A third article, which cited Washington Post coverage of corruption in the Iraqi police force, sparked separate complaints from the police and former Wasit Gov. Mohammed Ridha al-Jashaamy.

Al-Tamimi and Abbas were jailed for several months in 2004 for allegedly defaming al-Jashaamy.

In the same proceeding on Sunday, former Sada Wasit reporter Ali Fayyad al-Dulaimi faces two defamation charges stemming from 2005 articles. In one, Al-Dulaimi reported on protests in Wasit over lack of services and the governor’s performance. Al-Jashaamy brought a defamation charge based on the story. Iraqi police brought a second defamation charge for reporting that said police were corrupt and ineffectual. Al-Dulaimi faces up to six months in prison.

The trial of the three men began late last year in Wasit, but Abbas said the defendants sought a venue change to Baghdad because one of the charges was brought by a Wasit judge.

“These Iraqi journalists are under threat of imprisonment merely for what they reported,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Their trial is a serious blow to press freedom in Iraq and reflects poorly on the Iraqi government. Journalists must be able to carry out their jobs without interference from authorities and the fear of imprisonment.”

Al-Dulaimi, who now reports for the Baghdad-based newspaper As-Saffir, was kidnapped by an armed gang as he was leaving his paper’s offices in Alsaa’don Street in Baghdad on March 16, according to local CPJ sources. The abductors demanded US$30,000 from his family to secure his release. Al-Dulaimi was released on April 3, after suffering torture at the hands of his abductors, a source told CPJ. The abduction was not apparently related to the court case.