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 Iraqi Kurdistan magazine chief jailed on libel charges 

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Iraqi Kurdistan magazine chief jailed on libel charges  6.6.2011

Lvinpress chief held in police custody

June 6, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', —  The Editor in Chief of the independent Kurdish magazine Livinpress has been arrested following a libel lawsuit raised against him by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)'s Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami.

Mr. Ahmed Mira was arrested on Sunday as he was leaving a hearing in Erbil, part of another lawsuit filed against him by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) earlier this year.

After being informed in Erbil that his case had been referred to the court in Sulaimaniyah where Mira resides, the Livinpress chief was informed of the latest lawsuit.

“While we were leaving the court, we were informed that another lawsuit against Mira had been raised by the KRG minister of natural resources Ashti Hawrami,” said Ibrahim Ali, the managing editor of Livinpress.                     

Ahmed Mira (L), the chief editor for Lvin weekly magazine.
“We were not informed of the new suit beforehand so we appealed that the case be transferred to Sulaimaniyah as well.”

The case concerns a report published in issue 140 of Livinpress about Ashti Hawrami, and allegations of corruption.

Ali said he was unable to say more about the lawsuit filed by the KRG Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami last year, complaining that both Mira and the editorial team at Livinpress had been kept in the dark about it.

It was ruled that Mira will remain in custody for 5 days.

On May 17, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, filed a defamation law suit against the editor-in-chief of Livin, Ahmed Mira,www.ekurd.netfor printing an article about an alleged plot by the KDP and its ruling alliance partner the Patriotic union of Kurdistan (PUK), to assassinate opposition leaders.

Court documents reveal that the KDP is seeking $864,000 in damages and the cancellation of the magazine’s license to operate.

The documents say that Mr. Barzani’s party is suing Mira because the published article in question “not only has no basis in truth but is a threat to national security [and] a violation to the dignity and glory and the great achievements” of the region.

Just two weeks previously on May 5, the PUK leader and Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, filed a separate law suit over the same article.

Ali said that Mira’s arrest was only made possible by the fact that he is not a member of the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate (KJS) and so unprotected by its provisions.

KJS secretary Hamid Mohammed told AKnews however that Mira's arrest under the Iraqi penalty law remains a violation of Kurdistan’s journalism law.

“We at the KJS believe that Mira's arrest was wrong,” Mohammed said, “…he should have been dealt with in accordance with the journalism law in Kurdistan.”

According to the Kurdistan Region's Journalism Law, journalists can not be interrogated under any other law, Mohammed explained.

“We have charged the legal advisor of the KJS to take legal action to free Mira from Jail,” he said, expressing the hope that Mira would be released within 24 hours.

A damning Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published last month pointed an accusatory finger at Kurdish government officials for carrying out “a growing assault” on the freedom of journalists working in the semi-autonomous northern Iraqi region.

The report openly calls on the Kurdish authorities to stop repressing journalists through libel suits, beatings, detentions, and death threats.

The organization cites claims that Kurdistan officials have repeatedly attempted to silence the Livinpress Magazine.

“The Kurdistan Regional Government promised a new era of freedom for Iraqi Kurds, but it seems no more respectful of Kurdish rights to free speech than the government that preceded it,” HRW’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said following the publication of the report.

“In a time when the Middle East is erupting in demands to end repression, the Kurdish authorities are trying to stifle and intimidate critical journalism.”

Speaking of the first lawsuit brought against Mira, Whitson condemned the KRG, accusing them of bully-boy tactics vis-à-vis the region's independent media.

“Such libel suits by Kurdistan government officials are nothing more than a thinly-veiled effort to punish critics and create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship,” Whitson said.

“The attacks by Barzani and his colleagues on independent journalists do more to undermine Kurdish ‘dignity' and ‘glory' than anything in the media reports.”

Massoud Barzani and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Kurdistan-Iraq, with a gross value of several billion US dollars.

The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers. In May 2010 the journalist Sardasht Osman was murdered after criticising the Barzani family. In July 2010 the opposition paper Rozhnama accused the Barzani-led KDP of pocketing large sums from illegal oil-smuggling.

Iraqi Kurdistan is still considered one of the regions with the most press freedom in the Middle East. The situation threatens to deteriorate rapidly, however. Kurdistan passed a new press law in 2008. This law prohibits prosecution based on an opinion piece. The law was signed by Massoud Barzani who now threatens the independent media with fine after fine. In order to continue imposing restrictions on independent media he is relying on the use of obsolete laws from the days of Saddam Hussein. 

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