December 15, 2018

Press Freedom

Pakistan

Iraq Amplifies Pressure on Journalists Ahead of Arab League Summit

H.E. Jalal Talabani

President

Republic of Iraq

c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq

1801 P Street, NW

Washington , DC 20036


Your Excellency:

The world is watching with interest as Baghdad readies itself for next year’s Arab League summit. It is a worry, therefore, that as the country prepares for this spotlight event, your government is amplifying the pressure on journalists to censor themselves to the detriment of the nation.

We learned this week, for example, that as part of its facelift for next year’s summit, the well-known Mansour Hotel is evicting the journalists who have made the hotel a symbol of free expression since the hardest days of the American invasion. We would be more inclined to believe this is no more than a landlord-tenant problem were it not for the backdrop of life-threatening danger and official government hostility with which our colleagues reporting in Iraq now contend.

This month, for example, the Communication and Media Commission, established in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in 2003, declared that all news organizations operating in Iraq , whether foreign or domestic, must register with the commission. In addition, media companies are obliged to pay stiff licensing fees and agree not to report any news that could conceivably worsen sectarian disputes or abet terrorism — all the vague and distantly menacing requirements — in other words, that government “media commissions” around the world institute when they wish the news media to shut up.

Even an advisor to the media commission, Ahmed al-Abyad, raises the question, “Who is responsible for applying these regulations?” The short, and worrisome, answer is that commission members decide how their new rules will be interpreted, accountable to no one but the prime minister who appointed them. The potential for censorship and score-settling is obvious.

Meanwhile, the physical threat to our colleagues goes on. Nearly 200 journalists, most of them Iraqis, have died since the American invasion. An unknown number have been kidnapped, beaten, jailed, sued and fined for doing their jobs. Still, they try to do their jobs as professionals, aware of the essential role a vital media plays in building democracy.

We ask you, Your Excellency, to show the world at next year’s summit that Iraq is a democracy now, with strong roots in the value of free expression. To do anything else would be a dishonor to the memory of the many thousands who died in the name of freedom since 2003.


Respectfully yours,

Jeremy Main
Kevin McDermott


Co-chairs — Freedom of the Press Committee


cc:

H.E. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki

Prime Minister

Republic of Iraq

c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq

1801 P Street, NW

Washington , DC 20036



Ambassador Hamid Al Bayati

Permanent Representative

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq to the United Nations

14 East 79th Street


New York, NY 10021


Fax: (212) 772.1794

H.E. Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie, Ambassador of Iraq to the U.S.A.


Embassy of the Republic of Iraq


1801 P Street, NW


Washington, DC 20036

H.E. James F. Jeffrey


U.S. Ambassador to Iraq


Embassy of the United States of America


Baghdad


Iraq


irc-baghdad@state.gov

News Editor


Al-Jazeera


Qatar


Fax: (011.99.74) 442.6864

Hassan Fatah Pasha


Editor


Iraq Today


hassan@iraq-today.net

Pierre Taillefer


Executive Editor


Agence France-Presse


pierre.taillefer@afp.com


Maria Otero


Under Secretary of State for Democracy

and Global Affairs


U.S. Department of State


2201 C Street, NW


Washington, DC 20520