Journalist jailed in violation of press law

New York, December 2, 2008–The Iraqi Kurdistan government should immediately release a journalist who was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine, in violation of the region’s press law, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Adel Hussein, a 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 for publishing an article in April 2007 in Hawlati about health and sex, Tariq Fatih, Hawlati‘s publisher told CPJ. The court gave him a jail term–in violation of the press law, which does not allow for jailing journalists–and a 125,000 dinar (US$106) fine. He was sent to Mahata prison in Arbil the same day, Fatih said.

Arbil’s public prosecutor filed a lawsuit against Hussein, former Editor-in-Chief Adnan Osman, and the publisher, Fatih said, adding that he and the editor-in-chief did not legally have to face trial because they did not receive a warrant.

The sentence handed down was based on the outdated 1969 Iraqi penal code, said Luqman Malazadah, Hussein’s lawyer. Malazadah told CPJ that he has appealed the court decision. A new press law that took effect in October doesn’t recognize violations of “publish custom” as an offense and also eliminates prison terms for journalists. The new law also says that a representative of the region’s Journalist Syndicate must attend a journalist’s trial, but Fatih said that no representative attended Hussein’s.

“A judge of all people should know that ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This is the second time in a month that a court in Iraqi Kurdistan has sent a journalist to prison in violation of the new press law. We call on the authorities to ensure that the new legislation is widely promulgated and enforced, and we urge the appeal court to overturn this conviction and free Adel Hussein immediately.”

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. He was sent to jail. After spending nine days in prison, a court of appeal overturned the charges and said that Dawdi should be tried under the new law.