December 14, 2018

Press Freedom

Iraq

Iraq November 29, 2006

H.E. Nouri 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

Your Excellency:

On behalf of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), a New York-based association of international journalists founded in 1939, we note with interest the recent assertion of press freedom in your country by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to representatives of the press freedom organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But we are compelled to urge that your government do more to make this assertion a reality on the ground for journalists risking their lives to tell the important story of Iraq , both to its own people and to an outside world increasingly concerned about the course of the war and the progress of democracy there.

In his meeting with the RSF, that group has reported, President Talabani said journalists in Iraq were among the freest in the Middle East, with more than 100 daily newspapers and broadcast stations, and reporters free to criticize the authorities and government decisions. And yet, we must join RSF and other press freedom groups in protesting not only continuing violence against members of the news media by warring factions, but also government curbs on their freedom of movement and professional operations, including bans on filming members of parliament, the army and police, and even religious festivals.

In particular, we must object to the detention without formal legal charges on two occasions of Kalshan al-Bayati, a correspondent for the London-based Arabic-language daily, Al-Hayat , the second time for nearly a month in September and October, according to the watchdog group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Although we are relieved that al-Bayati was eventually released, we must protest the confiscation of her personal computer, notes, passport and ID papers, and the ban on her leaving the country.

Accordiing to RSF, a sister of al-Bayati says she was working on an article about insurgents in Saleheddin Province , after previous reporting that was critical of security forces in Tikrit, hometown of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. At the time of her arrest, Al-Hayat quoted al-Bayati as saying that security forces had investigated her for possible ties to insurgents, but found none. In the absence of formal charges, we urge you to order the return of all materials seized from al-Bayati and restoration of her freedom to travel inside or outside Iraq .

We also join RSF in condemning an Iraqi government decision to close two privately-owned TV stations, Al-Zaura and Salah-Eddin, for allegedly “inciting violence and murder” by broadcasting footage of protests against a death sentence verdict in the first trial of former President Hussein. And we support RSF’s call for re-opening of the Baghdad bureau of the pan-Arab satellite TV service, Al-Jazeera.

Mr. Prime Minister, we understand the need for effective anti-terrorist operations in Iraq , and we realize the difficulty in seeking out those terrorists and sectarian fighters responsible for the mounting number of attacks on journalists. But we must point out that the current rationale for the U.S.-led Coalition’s presence in Iraq is in no small part to establish a model for democracy in the Middle East , which depends heavily on freedom of speech and of the press, however inconvenient a free media may seem to those in authority.

We urge you to halt your repeated threats to use a 2004 anti-terrorism law to shut down media — and impose long prison sentences on journalists — whose professional reporting is alleged to incite “violence…sedition and sectarianism.” To the contrary, we call on you to make clear in the strongest terms your own commitment to press freedom and that of your Administration; to release, formally try, or at least bring clear charges against Kalshan al-Bayati and all journalists now in custody or under government restraint, to permit the return to full operation of all broadcast operations currently closed by the government, and to order that all Iraqi officials do everything possible to ensure the safety of those journalists attempting to provide the full and fair account of a crucial conflict that Americans, Iraqis and a watching world demand and deserve.

Thank you for your attention. We would appreciate a reply.

Respectfully yours,
David M. Alpern
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Jalal Talabani

President of Iraq 7

c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq

1801 P Street, NW

Washington , DC 20036

General George Casey

Commander, Coalition Task Force

Baghdad , Iraq

APO AE 09316

Fax: (703) 270-0270

The Permanent Representative

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq

to the United Nations

14 East 79 th Street

New York , NY 10021

Fax: (212) 772-1794

Zalmay Khalilzad

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq

Embassy of the United States of America

Baghdad editor@aljazeera.net

Iraq

BaghdadPressOffice@state.gov

News Editor

Al-Jazeera

Qatar

Fax: (011.974) 442-6864

Hassan Fatah Pasha

Editor

Iraq Today

hassan@iraq-today.net

Pierre Taillefer

Executive Editor

Agence France-Presse
spacerpierre.taillefer@afp.com