So apparently, one of our goals in kicking out Saddam Hussein was to build a model democracy in Iraq. Said model democracy having explicit religious overtones, and now, officially hostile to the press.
Ahmed al-Karbouli, a reporter for Baghdadiya TV in the violent city of Ramadi, did his best to ignore the death threats, right up until six armed men drilled him with bullets after midday prayers. He was the fourth journalist killed in Iraq in September alone, out of a total of more than 130 since the 2003 invasion, the vast majority of them Iraqis. But these days, men with guns are not Iraqi reporters’ only threat. Men with gavels are, too.
Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein’s penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year. Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who “publicly insults” the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison. On Sept. 7, the police sealed the offices of Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, for what the government said was inflammatory reporting. And the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least three Iraqi journalists have served time in prison for writing articles deemed criminally offensive. The office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lately refused to speak with news organizations that report on sectarian violence in ways that the government considers inflammatory; some outlets have been shut down.
[...] Iraqi journalists still operate with considerable freedoms, at least compared with those in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries, and many Iraqis have achieved a new level of professionalism by working closely with Western journalists. So despite the growing government pressure, the news media have become increasingly aggressive.
[...] Even though the Iraqi news media have made strides, the journalists themselves are being killed at an extraordinary rate.
Since the Iraq war began, more than 130 journalists — most of them Iraqi — have been fatally shot, beaten or tortured to death, according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, the most prominent domestic advocacy group for journalists to emerge since the invasion. (The Committee to Protect Journalists, which requires more evidence to verify reported killings, lists 79 journalists and 28 news workers.) Most of the victims — reporters, photographers and editors — were working for local newspapers and television stations.
[...] The disdain for truly free expression cuts across sectarian lines. The men who killed Mr. Karbouli after warning him to stop his critical reporting on the insurgency were almost certainly Sunni. The former governor of Wasit Province, and the judges and police officials who brought charges against the three journalists for questioning their ethics, were all Shiites. In April, Mastura Mahmood, a young journalist for the women’s weekly paper Rewan, was charged with defamation for an article that quoted an anti-government demonstrator in Halabja comparing the Iraqi police there with the Baathists who once ran the country. She was arrested and then released on bail. In May, a court in Sulaimaniya, in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, sentenced two journalists, Twana Osman and Asos Hardi, to six-month suspended jail terms for an article claiming that a Kurdish official had two telephone company employees fired after they cut his phone service for failing to pay his bill. “These cases show that Iraqi officials are quick to use the same kinds of onerous legal tools as their neighbors to punish outspoken media,” said Joel Campagna, the Middle East program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists....
I'm guessing that this is how Our Glorious Leader and friends devoutly wish our government could be run -- possibly, but not definitely, minus the rolling civil war. And if they could get a civil war aimed at liberals, secularists and ethical journalists, they'd be positively ecstatic. Imagine what they could get away with, having distractions like that around. (Considering what they manage to get away with when they don't have those distractions, it really doesn't bear thinking about.)
...Some news executives express support for Al Arabiya’s closing. “It is the right of the Iraqi government, as it combats terrorism, to silence any voice that tries to harm the national unity,” said Mr. Sadr, of the Iraqi Media Network.
Sounds rather like our Glorious Vice President, doesn't he? And he's supposed to be something approaching a journalist. If the leaders of the journalists themselves feel this way, and the more independent-minded journalists are getting tortured and killed, what hope is there, in the long run, for the country? How will the people know what they need to know about their country?Posted by iain at September 29, 2006 11:03 AM