[JURIST] Journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan who criticize the government are facing increased intimidation, violence and lawsuits [press release], Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported Friday. HRW criticized the secret investigation into the May killing of journalist Saradasht Osman, who had written articles criticizing the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) [party website] and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], the region’s two ruling parties. HRW also said that journalists in Iraq have faced increasing defamation claims for articles criticizing politicians, political parties and government officials. Ziad al-Ajili of Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedom Observatory (JFO) [advocacy website, in Arabic] said that officials have filed at least 200 lawsuits over the past two years. Under a 2008 press law passed by the regional government, imprisonment is no longer a penalty for publication-related offenses, authorities can no longer shut down media organizations as a penalty and there is a cap on the amount of damages a court can order. However, HRW claims that the 2008 law is not widely applied, and courts have allowed cases to be filed under the 1986 penal code, which provides for fines and jail times. The KDP has filed more than 10 lawsuits in the past two months under the 1969 law, according to the Metro Center to Defend Journalists, a JFO affiliate focusing on northern Iraq.
In August 2009, the Iraqi Government [official website, in Arabic], announced the drafting of a law that proposes a framework to safeguard Iraqi journalists [JURIST report]. The proposed law has been stalled in the Parliament since its proposal [AP report]. In July 2008, Soran Mama-Hama, an investigative reporter for Livin Magazine who had written articles critical of Kurdish authorities, was assassinated in Kirkuk. Several journalists have fled Northern Iraq after receiving threats following critical articles about the two leading political parties. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website] ranked Iraq 130 in their 2010 Press Freedom Index. In September, RWB released a report detailing the 230 murders of journalists [materials] that have occurred since 2003. Their profile of Iraq lists several journalists who have faced lawsuits and have been victimized by violence [materials].