In meeting with CPJ, Barzani pledges climate ‘conducive to journalism’

Arbil, Iraq, May 5, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists urged KRG President Masoud Barzani on Sunday to publicly investigate a spate of violent attacks against the press, end official interference and harassment of journalists, and support press legislation that conforms to international standards of free expression.

A CPJ delegation met with Barzani at his headquarters in the town of Salahuddin outside Arbil, seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and presented him with CPJ’s report of deteriorating press conditions in the region. In “The Other Iraq,” CPJ said security forces have harassed and detained independent journalists, suspected government agents have assaulted critical writers, and prosecutors have pursued criminal charges against reporters. The report, released publicly today, is available online.

Barzani thanked CPJ for its report and declared his government’s commitment to “create an atmosphere that is conducive to journalism.” Barzani bemoaned what he called the lack of professionalism among journalists and said their articles should be based on concrete information. “The [media] should not be used as a tool for denigrating others.”

When asked about the arrest and imprisonment of journalists, Barzani told the delegation: “It would be intolerable to have someone arrested in freedom of expression cases … The security forces [are] interested in terrorism—that is their main objective.” Asked about harassment of journalists by security forces, he added, “Instructions are very clear that they should not violate rights of individuals.”

The CPJ delegation included board member Michael Massing, Deputy Director Robert Mahoney, and Middle East Senior Program Coordinator Joel Campagna.

CPJ expressed concern about restrictive press legislation passed by the KRG parliament late last year but vetoed by Barzani. The bill would have allowed the government to impose heavy fines and close newspapers. A new bill is expected to be debated by parliament soon. CPJ told Barzani that the KRG has an opportunity to devise model press legislation for the region by eliminating criminal defamation, jail sentences, and other provisions that violate international human rights and free expression standards.
Today, the CPJ delegation met with the speaker of the KRG parliament, Adnan Mufti, and urged him to remove restrictive provisions still in the bill under discussion by members of parliament.

Ideally, Mufti said, press legislation should conform to international free expression standards. He indicated changes might be made to Article 10 of the bill, which imposes vague restrictions on content and could enable the government to set heavy fines and close newspapers.