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Iraqi Kurd Media Bill Draws Protest

By YAHYA BARZANJI – 2 days ago

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Lawmakers in Iraq's self-ruled Kurdish region approved a measure that would allow courts to accuse journalists of "vague offenses" relating to terrorism or disturbing security, drawing protests Friday from Kurdish journalists and an international media advocate.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the bill, approved Tuesday in a sparsely attended parliamentary session, could be "exploited by pro-government judges to put critical newspapers out of business."

Aws Herdi, editor of the weekly Kurdish newspaper Owena, 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," Herdi said at a protest Friday in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad. He said any journalist who writes about terrorism could be accused of a crime under the measure.

The bill must be approved by the Kurdish president, Massoud Barzani, before it goes into effect.
Among the lawmakers who opposed the measure was Suzan Shihab of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Of the semiautonomous region's 111 lawmakers, only 57 attended the session. Of those, 11 abstained and seven voted against it.
"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.

Shihab called on Barzani to veto the measure.

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

"Given the tenuous financial and political situation of independent papers — several operate at losses or barely break even — the bill's elastic language could be exploited by pro-government judges to put critical newspapers out of business," the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement Friday.

The Kurdish government has said a new media law is needed to replace the current law, which dates to the era of Saddam Hussein, but has otherwise not commented on the specifics of the measure.

Aso Jabbar, a government critic who attended Friday's protest, said the law would not make him back down.

"We shouldn't be frightened of prisons," he said. "Putting me in prison for my views is an honor."

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