Iraqi military files lawsuit against newspaper, TV channel

New York, April 14, 2009–The Iraqi military should drop a criminal lawsuit it filed Monday against a newspaper and a TV channel for misattributing a quote to its spokesman, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Iraqi and international press reported Monday that Major General Qassim Atta al-Moussawi, spokesman of the Baghdad Military Command Operations, has said that the military has initiated a lawsuit to shut down offices of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat and the Dubai-based private Al-Sharqiya satellite channel after they attributed a quote to him that he had not said.

Last week, Al-Hayat quoted al-Moussawi as saying that the Iraqi military has “distributed names and pictures of released detainees to checkpoints with the aim of arresting them in connection with recent bombings in Baghdad.” Al-Sharqiya republished Al-Hayat‘s story, a spokesman for the channel, who asked that his name be withheld, told CPJ. Upon recognizing its mistake, Al-Hayat posted a correction on its Web site saying that the information had come from an unnamed source, not al-Moussawi, The Associated Press reported.

“The punishment in this case of misattribution is not commensurate with the offense,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “A newspaper has corrected its mistake. We call on the court to throw out this overblown case against Al-Hayat and Al-Sharqiya.”

In a statement published by the local media, al-Moussawi said that he had not given such a statement but had rather said that the Iraqi military “would review files of released detainees to see if they had joined armed groups.” Al-Moussawi told AP that a correction was not enough and that Al-Hayat and Al-Sharqiya have to issue statements admitting their mistake, adding that “after that, we might consider dropping the case.”

The New York Times reported today that the official government newspaper, Al Sabah, also published the remarks, but was not threatened with closure.

A spokesman for Al-Sharqiya told CPJ that it was not going to apologize because the article was not an original production of the channel.

Al-Sharqiya’s Baghdad office was closed by an order from the Ministry of Interior in January 2007 on accusations of “inciting violence.” The office was reopened in late 2008.