Journalist held for 23 days under vague Iraqi law

New York, February 19, 2013–International journalist Nadir Dendoune was released on February 14 after being detained in Iraqi prison for almost a month, according to news reports. Dendoune was arrested for photographing a location officials described as being restricted and was later accused of failing to register under the country’s vague Journalist Protection Law.

Local press freedom groups and news accounts reported that Dendoune was released from prison on bail of 10 million Iraqi dinars (US$8,500). Dendoune, who is of Algerian descent and holds French and Australian passports, is expected to return to France on Friday.

Dendoune was detained in the neighbourhood of Dora on January 23 while attempting to gather information for a report for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Police said Dendoune was taking pictures of unspecified restricted locations, but the journalist’s sister, Houria Dendoune, said he had been photographing a local water filtration station, which was not restricted, Agence France-Presse reported at the time.

Haqi Mohammed, an Iraqi citizen working as a guide for Dendoune, was also jailed in connection with the journalist’s arrest, according to news reports. News accounts reported conflicting dates of Mohammed’s arrest, but said he was freed on bail the same day as Dendoune.

Authorities also accused Dendoune of not being registered under Iraqi law, but never filed formal charges against him. Iraq’s 2011 Journalist Protection Law requires journalists to register “under the law,” but fails to specify what law. Days before he was taken into custody, Dendoune said he had received a journalist visa, according to an article he published in the French website Le Courrier De L’Atlas. This ambiguity is one of many reasons why CPJ and other groups have criticized the law for falling short of international standards for freedom of expression.

“The fact that a journalist was jailed under an act called the Journalist Protection Law tells you that something is very wrong with this legislation,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa coordinator. “The Iraqi parliament should immediately revise the law to ensure that arbitrary detentions do not recur.”

Another ambiguously worded law, the Information Crimes bill, was effectively defeated in Iraqi parliament after the Culture and Media Committee recommended on January 22 that the bill be withdrawn. International human rights and press freedom groups had harshly criticized the law, which sought to curb criminal activity online and penalized vague crimes like harming the “reputation of the country” and violating “principles, religious, moral, family, or social values or personal privacy.”

“Iraq must find a way to protect against online crime while not ensnaring journalists with dangerously ambiguous laws,” Mansour said.

  • For more data on Iraq, see CPJ’s Attacks on the PressIraq page.