Court of appeal overturns editor’s sentence

New York, November 13, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes a decision from a court in Iraqi Kurdistan today to reject a one-month prison sentence and fine against journalist Shwan Dawdi.

On November 4, a criminal court in Sulaymaniyah found 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 the Sulaymaniyah courthouse. Dawdi was jailed the same day and fined 300,000 Iraqi dinars (US$255) for publishing articles in 2004 on various court problems.

The court overturned all the charges and said that Dawdi should be tried under the region’s new press law, the editor told CPJ. If convicted under that law, he will face a fine of up to 5 million Iraqi dinars (US$4,271).

“We are relieved that Shwan Dawdi has been released and cleared of these charges,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The court of appeal corrected a mistake that should never have been made. We hope that he is the last journalist to be jailed for his work in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

On September 22, the regional parliament passed a press law that removes prison terms for defamation cases. The law was published in Waqa’y Kurdistan, the official government journal, on October 20, which means it had taken effect by the time of Dawdi’s sentencing.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Faruq Jamil, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s minister of Justice, CPJ called the criminal court’s decision a contravention of the new press law and urged him to ensure that the court of appeal hears the editor’s case quickly and overturn his conviction.

Dawdi told CPJ that the court of appeal declared that the criminal court’s decison to send him to jail was “not correct and not legal.”