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Kurdish bill on journalists draws protests

Media workers could be tried in terrorism courts on 'vague offenses.'

December 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

SULAYMANIYA, IRAQ — Lawmakers in Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region approved a measure that would allow charges of "vague offenses" relating to terrorism or disturbing security to be brought against journalists, drawing protests Friday from Kurdish journalists and an international media advocate.

Under the measure, journalists can be prosecuted in counter-terrorism courts, which could bring the death penalty, and newspapers can be shut down for up to six months and fined up to $8,200.

Asos Hardi, editor of the weekly Kurdish newspaper Awene, accused the major Kurdish parties that supported the measure of hypocrisy, saying their slogans for freedom "are only empty words."

"This new law will send journalists to prison, ban newspapers and allow for outrageous fines under various pretexts," Hardi said at a protest Friday in Sulaymaniya, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

He said any journalist who writes about terrorism could be accused of a crime under the measure.

The bill would have to be approved by the Kurdish regional government's president, Massoud Barzani, before it takes effect.

Of the semiautonomous region's 111 lawmakers, only 57 attended the session Tuesday. Of those, 11 abstained and seven voted against the measure. Among the seven was Suzan Shihab of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Shihab called on Barzani to veto the measure.

"This law means silencing people, journalists and intellectuals who usually criticize the government and its mistakes," said Shihab, who attended Friday's protest. There was a similar gathering in Irbil, another Kurdish city.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the bill could be "exploited by pro-government judges to put critical newspapers out of business."

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