Judge jails editor who criticized courthouse

New York, November 5, 2008–The Iraqi Kurdistan court of appeals should act immediately to overturn a judge’s ruling on Tuesday to impose a one-month prison term against a journalist who published critical reports about the Sulaymaniyah courthouse, CPJ said today. The journalist’s lawyer said newly adopted legislation does not appear to allow such a prison sentence.

The Criminal Court in Sulaymaniyah found Shwan Dawdi, editor-in-chief of the Kirkuk-based Hawal newspaper, guilty of three defamation charges filed by retired judge Kemal Mustafa, the former director of Sulaymaniyah courthouse. Dawdi was jailed on Tuesday and fined 300,000 Iraqi dinars (US$255) for publishing articles in 2004 on various court problems.

“We had started to write regularly on courts since 2001,” Dawdi told CPJ from his cell phone in Al-Salam prison in Sulaymaniyah “During the time [Mustafa] was the director of Sulaymaniyah courthouse many problems happened.”

The newspaper, citing an unnamed source, reported that Mustafa retired as part of an overall reform plan, Star Khwa Rahm, Dawdi’s lawyer, told CPJ. Mustafa filed a court complaint, saying his departure was voluntary and not connected to any court problems. Mustafa filed two other complaints as well: one for an article that raised questions about the government’s decision to reinstate Mustafa in 2001; the other for coverage of disputes between the judge and lawyers employed by the court, Khwa Rahm said. The lawyer said he is appealing the court’s decision tomorrow.  

On September 22, the regional parliament passed a new press law that lifts prison terms for defamation cases. Khwa Rahm said he informed the judge of the new legislation, but the judge “said that he has not received such a law.”

“The regional parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan has abolished jail time for offenses under the Press Law,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Why then has our colleague Shwan Dawdi been sent to prison for his critical reporting? The court of appeal must overturn this verdict and release him immediately.”

In May, CPJ issued a special report, “The Other Iraq,” that found increasing in repression in Iraqi Kurdistan over the last three years.