Friday, January 27, 2006

No freedom of speech in Kurdistan

The American invasion of Iraq was supposed to bring freedom. The reality has turned out rather differently. There's the torture, of course, which one Iraqi politician has called worse than under Saddam. But the freedom of Iraqis is limited in other ways as well. For example, there's the case of Kamal Sayid Qadir, a Kurdish writer and human rights activist recently sentenced to 30 years imprisonment after a trial "that fell far short of international standards". The reason?

From Austria he had written articles accusing Mr. Barzani's all-powerful Kurdistan Democratic Party of corruption while calling members of its intelligence service, the Parastin, criminals and its chief — Mr. Barzani's son — a "pimp."

And this isn't an isolated case:

Two journalists from Wasit Province in east central Iraq face 10 years in prison for suggesting that Iraqi judges kowtow to the American authorities just as Saddam Hussein's courts rubber-stamped edicts of the Baath Party. The journalists, Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi and Ahmed Mutair Abbas, had also accused the then-governor of Wasit of corruption and labeled him a bastard, a grave insult here.


In Kurdistan, [a former newspaper editor] says, it is not unusual for the secret police to threaten or arrest journalists who fail to toe the line of the K.D.P. More than a dozen journalists have been arrested in recent years, he says, but the cases are never reported on in Kurdistan because other journalists fear saying anything critical of the party.

"Generally, any journalists or writers not connected to the party are under threats," Mr. Ismael said. "If you write anything not in their interest, they will arrest you or call your cellphone and threaten you."

The recently ratified Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the press (Article 36), but it seems the implementation leaves something to be desired. Instead, it seems that those in power are using criminal law to protect themselves from criticism and allegations of corruption, to the detriment of democracy.

(Hat tip: Talk Left)