April 12, 2024

Press Freedom


Iraq May 8, 2006

Nuri Kamal al-Maliki
Prime Minister
Republic of Iraq
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street, NW
Washington , DC 20036
Fax: (202) 462-5066

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Please accept our congratulations on your selection to the crucial office of prime minister, and our best wishes for success for your new government. All Americans are hoping that Iraq can prove to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East .

The Overseas Press Club of America, which has been promoting media freedom around the world for more than 65 years, hopes particularly that you will succeed in establishing and defending the principles of freedom of the press. It is our conviction that without freedom of opinion and expression, democracy is a hollow shell; press freedom is not a luxury that can be indulged only when times are safe and life is tranquil. In fact, it is particularly important to encourage unfettered reporting of fact and dissenting opinion when democracy is endangered, since openness and transparency are among the best defenses against tyranny and terror. Accordingly, we hope that you will be particularly vigilant to safeguard press freedom in your country in the coming months.

It is encouraging that so many new and independent newspapers, magazines and broadcast media have sprung up since the fall of Saddam Hussein. At the same time, journalists face special hazards in trying to cover the news in a divided country where terrorists lurk and armed conflict persists. Far too many Iraqi journalists have been killed and wounded while reporting on the conflict, often by American or Iraqi armed forces. Among many other incidents, for example, a study commissioned by the Reuters agency and carried out by the independent Risk Advisory Group found that the killing of Reuters photographer, Waleed Khaled, by U.S. forces on August 28, 2005, was “unlawful” and a violation of U.S. military rules of engagement. While we know it is difficult to protect journalists in the heat of combat, we ask you to use your influence both within your government and in liaison with U.S. forces to persuade the military that journalists are not the enemy, and to work out a satisfactory system of recognizable signs and symbols that will identify and protect journalists in conflict situations.

Another delicate area for your government concerns protection of journalists from government abuse in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. As you know, Kurdish authorities have been cracking down on dissent and criticism.

In March, for instance, the Iraqi-born Austrian journalist, Kamal Karim, who also writes as Kamal Sayid Qadir, was sentenced to 18 months in jail by a court in the city of Arbil for defaming local officials. His articles on Kurdistanpost , an independent Kurdish news Web site, criticized the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its leader, Massoud Barzani, whom Karim accused of corruption and abuse of power. And on May 2, Twana Osman, editor-in-chief of Hawlati , and Asos Hardi, the paper’s former editor, were sentenced to six-month suspended jail terms and fines of 75,000 dinars each by a criminal court in the city of Sulaymaniyah for a similar offense. They had published an article alleging that Prime Minister Omer Fatah ordered the dismissal of two telephone company employees after they cut his phone line for failing to pay a bill. A third Hawlati journalist, Hawez Hawezi, also faces charges for an article criticizing his treatment by security forces in an earlier arrest.

Your Excellency, laws criminalizing libel and defamation are all too often used to stifle legitimate dissent. In any case, they are unnecessary, since civil penalties are effective in punishing and deterring false and malicious publication. We understand the delicacy of your government’s relationship with the Kurdish region. But we hope you will use your powers to make sure that no Iraqi laws criminalize libel or defamation, and that you will use your influence to persuade the Kurdish authorities to follow suit.

Thank you for your attention. We hope that you will reply.

Respectfully yours,
Larry Martz
Kevin McDermott
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee





Jalal Talabani


Republic of Iraq

c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036


Zalmay Khalilzad

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

Embassy of the United States of America

Baghdad, Iraq

APO AE 09316


Said Shihab Ahmad

Charge d’Affaires

Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
1801 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Fax: (202) 462-5066

General George Casey

Commander, Coalition Task Force 7



Fax: (703) 270-0270


Senator John Warner

Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

225 Russell Building
Washington, DC 20510

Fax: (202) 224-6295


Marshall Ingwerson   News Editor

Managing Editor   Al-Jazeera

The Christian Science Monitor   Qatar

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Executive editor

Agence France-Presse