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Kurdish party drops legal proceedings against two columnists on Awene

Relief for now: A journalist working for Awene Kurdish newspapers looks at pictures on his laptop next to a newspaper with a picture of Barack Obama and John McCain, in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, November 2, 2008.

President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party Massoud Barzani has announced in an interview with the pro-KDP daily Khebat that he is to withdraw a complaint made by his party against two columnists on the non partisan newspaper Awene, Marwan Wrya Qani’ and Aras Fatah, over their article that appeared in June 2010, “What did the president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan say?”

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), which has several times expressed its concern at a surge in legal proceedings against non-party journalists and media in Iraqi Kurdistan, repeats its support for all initiatives intended to defend freedom of the press in the region.

Earlier, a demonstration was organised Thursday in Darbandikhan, 65 km southeast of Sulaymaniyah, to defend the two newspaper columnists. The two Kurdish academics, Marwan Wrya Qani and Aras Fatah, were to be prosecuted over the column they wrote jointly for the June 8, 2010 issue of the independent newspaper Awene titled “What did the Kurdistan regional president say?”

It referred to an address that President Massoud Barzani had made a few days earlier to the regional parliament in which he threatened all those who did not respect the government’s red lines or questioned the political status quo, in which Barzani’s KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (KDP) together control the regional government. Read the article in English:

Qani, a lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, and Fatah, a sociologist, usually write their own weekly columns in Awene, but they wrote this one together. It was “far from being defamatory or insulting,” said Awene editor Shwan Muhammad, who has had to deposit 2 million Iraqi dinars (1,300 euros) in bail. “It was not a factual report or investigative article. It was an analysis published on the newspaper’s opinion page.”

In an interview for RSF, Qani voiced concern about the press freedom situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. “The KDP has dictatorial tendencies,” he said. “It wants to silence all criticism (...) The KDP clearly wants to reduce Kurdish society to silence and monopolize the political arena.”

Qani added: “The pressure the KDP is currently putting on the region’s journalists and media is part of this plan (...) I fear that the party will use all possible means to achieve its ends and to neutralize and eliminate independent media. They have embarked on an all-out war and the danger is real.”

Another Awene journalist, Sat Muhammad, is also being sued for an op-ed piece he wrote for the same issue headlined “Lion at home, fox abroad.” It criticised those who took a hard line with Kurdistan’s own citizens and journalists but were relaxed and friendly towards foreigners.

Dr Fayaq Muhammad Gullpi, a former politician and columnist for various media, has meanwhile been fined 1 million Iraqi dinars (645 euros) for an opinion piece he wrote for the Kurdistan Post ( website on March 22, 2009 to mark the anniversary of the 1988 bombardment of the Kurdish village of Sayw Senan (Sewsenan) with chemical weapons.

The case was the result of a libel suit brought by the head of the government’s “Martyrs Office” in Sulaymaniyah because the article claimed that, although a member of the Pershmerga rebels, he had subsequently betrayed the Kurdish cause and joined the Baathist government. The court convicted Gullpi although experts concluded that the article was not defamatory.

Shwan Dawudi, the editor of the pro-PUK weekly Hawal, was also recently fined 21 million Iraqi dinars (13,560 euros) in connection with articles about judicial corruption that had been published in 2004 and 2005.

Date posted: January 7, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 255