Kurd Draws Jail Again In Press Freedom Case

Monday, March 27, 2006

IRBIL, Iraq, March 26 -- An Iraqi-born Kurd with Austrian citizenship was sentenced to a year and a half in prison Sunday for defaming a Kurdish leader, in a case that has raised questions about press freedoms in postwar Iraq.

Kamal Kadir Karim was arrested in October after writing articles that accused Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party of corruption and abuse of power. Karim was convicted by a state security court in Irbil after an hour-long trial Dec. 19. He was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison but was retried.

"I swear by God I am not guilty," Karim said after the new sentence was pronounced. "I am not satisfied with this verdict. I am a victim."

The judge in the case, Faridoun Abdullah, called the sentence "fair" and "proportionate to the charges against" Karim.

"We helped him," the judge said. "We took into consideration that he is an academic and has served in the education field. So we sentenced him to a year and a half. Otherwise we would have sentenced him to five years."

A Kurdish representative to the United States said Karim would probably be pardoned.

"Maybe it's time to revise certain laws," Qubad Talabani told CNN. "We are an emerging democracy. . . . We need to improve our institutions."

Barzani and other Kurdish leaders had promised a new era of democracy after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Kurdish region has prided itself on having a better human rights record since then than other parts of Iraq, where sectarian violence has raised fears of civil war.

On March 17, security forces working for President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan arrested Hawez Hawezi, a teacher and writer.

Hawezi was charged with defaming the Kurdistan regional government after an article he wrote on corruption appeared in the Hawlati newspaper, according to an editor at the paper, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Hawezi was released on bail and is awaiting trial.

"We call on the authorities to dismiss this case at once," said Ann Cooper, the executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "Rather than pursue a journalist for doing his job, the Kurdish authorities would do well to investigate those who assaulted our colleague Hawez Hawezi."

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