December 17, 2018

Press Freedom

Iraq

Iraq September 30, 2011

H.E. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki
Prime Minister
Republic of Iraq
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
3421 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20007

Your Excellency:

We have been waiting, admittedly without great expectations, for news of the investigation of the murder on September 8 of Hadi al-Mahdi, the popular, provocative and courageous talk-show journalist.  He was the third Iraqi journalist killed in a month, the seventh murdered in 2011.

It is striking that the assassination of al-Mahdi should occur just a month after Iraq adopted a long-debated law purporting to protect journalists and promote their rights.  However, the law is so vaguely worded and so lacking in specific obligations and sanctions that it did not inspire optimism.  What speaks louder than the new law is the repeated harassment of journalists, especially TV personnel, by Iraqi security forces.  We refer to incidents on July 13, July 17, July 28 and July 31, in which journalists were attacked by security forces, had their equipment destroyed, were beaten and even arrested.  Al-Mahdi himself was arrested, threatened and beaten on February 25.

In the absence of any arrests or reports of an investigation, suspicion for the murder of al-Mahdi has to fall on the security forces.  Speaking of the new law for the protection of journalists, President Talabani described it as “stemming from respect for the freedom of the press and expression, as well as guaranteeing the rights of Iraqi journalists.”  However, Adnan al-Asadi, a senior official in the Interior Ministry, is quoted as saying on July 31 that freedom of information could now “pose a threat to internal security” and that journalists must no longer publish news of murders or arrests without the Ministry’s consent. The latter statement seems reflect more accurately the policy of your government towards the press.

Shortly before he was murdered, al-Mahdi wrote, “My friends, I will continue on my path; I will not quiver or be afraid…  I will not surrender, I will not run away, for this is my land.” (Al-Akhbar English, September 13).  Al-Mahdi had spent 18 years, most of his adult life, in exile because his voice had offended the Saddam government.  Once back in Iraq, he was fearless in criticizing any element of society or government that he felt deserved it.  He knew he was threatened, but his fearlessness remained breathtaking. His strident, sarcastic, entertaining, free voice was precisely what was needed in a democracy.

We, of the Committee on Freedom of the Press in the Overseas Press Club of America, hope that the spirit of al-Mahdi will be captured by other Iraqi journalists and that your government will allow them to flourish.

Respectfully yours,

Jeremy Main
Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Jalal Talabani
President, Republic of Iraq
c/o Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
3421 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007

Ambassador Mohammed Khazi
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
3421 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20007

H.E. James F. Jeffrey
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
Embassy of the United States of America
Al-Kundi Street
International Zone
Baghdad
Iraq

The Hon Maria Otero
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC  20520

News Editor
Al-Jazeera
Qatar
Fax: (011.99.74) 442.6864

Hassan Fatah Pasha
Editor
Iraq Today
Hassan@iraq-today.net

Ziad Khala al-Ajili
Manager
Journalistic Freedoms Observatory
ziad@jfoiraq.org