Journalist jailed for sodomy article released

New York, December 9, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes a presidential pardon for a journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan who had been sentenced to six months in prison, in direct violation of the region’s press law. 

Adel Hussein, a medical doctor and a freelance journalist with the independent weekly Hawlati, was found guilty of violating “public custom” on November 24 by a court in Arbil, the regional capital, for publishing an article in April 2007 in Hawlati about sodomy and health. He was sent to an Arbil prison the same day. Instead of using the region’s new press law, the sentence handed down was based on the outdated 1969 Iraqi penal code, said Luqman Malazadah, Hussein’s lawyer.

President Masoud Barzani gave the pardon on Sunday, one day before the Muslim celebration of Eid, the journalist told CPJ. According to the president’s Web site, Hussein’s was part of a group of 121 pardons made in the region.

“We are relieved that President Barzani intervened to right this injustice,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We call on the authorities to ensure that the new legislation is enforced and that Adel Hussein is the last journalist to be sent to prison in Iraqi Kurdistan because of his work.”

A new, October press law does not recognize violations of “public custom” as an offense; prison terms have been entirely eliminated for journalists. Hussein said he was shocked to be tried for the article since he has written three books and hundreds of articles on sex and health previously with no legal action.

This was not the first time that judges in Iraqi Kurdistan have sent journalists to prison in violation of the region’s press law. A criminal court in Sulaymaniyah recently convicted Shwan Dawdi, editor-in-chief of the Kirkuk-based newspaper Hawal, on three defamation charges filed by a retired judge. After nine days in jail, Dawdi was released when a court of appeal overturned the verdict and said that the journalist should be tried under the new law.