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 Kurd's writings land him in Jail: A critic of party corruption, or a reckless defamer?

 Source : NY Times
  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page

 


Kurd's writings land him in Jail: A critic of party corruption, or a reckless defamer? 26.1.2006
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. Published: January 26







ERBIL, Kurdistan-Iraq, Jan. 25 - Kamal Sayid Qadir had just returned here from Austria in late October when two trusted former students invited him for coffee at the Hotel Avista.

For Mr. Qadir, the meeting held the promise of a reunion of kindred spirits from Salahaddin University where, as a faculty member a few years back, he had clashed with administrators allied with the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. From Austria he had written articles accusing Mr. Barzani's all-powerful Kurdistan Democratic Party of corruption while calling members of its intelligence service, the Parastin, criminals and its chief — Mr. Barzani's son — a "pimp."

But Mr. Qadir said he never made it home from the hotel that night. Betrayed by his former students, who unknown to him had joined the Parastin, he says he was abducted after he left the hotel. He is now imprisoned here, sentenced last month to 30 years for defaming the Parastin and Kurdish political leaders after a trial that he said had lasted 15 minutes.

Dr Kamal Said Qadir, Austrian citizen, an international legal expert, writer and human rights activist


His case, while extraordinary, is by no means unique. Two journalists from Wasit Province in east central Iraq face 10 years in prison for suggesting that Iraqi judges kowtow to the American authorities just as Saddam Hussein's courts rubber-stamped edicts of the Baath Party. The journalists, Ayad Mahmoud al-Tamimi and Ahmed Mutair Abbas, had also accused the then-governor of Wasit of corruption and labeled him a bastard, a grave insult here.

Taken together, the prosecutions indicate how much remains at play in newly democratic Iraq. The nation has made remarkable steps away from totalitarian rule: the overthrow and prosecution of a genocidal dictator, two national elections and the adoption of a Constitution. But it remains to be seen how far Iraq will ultimately travel toward true Western-style democracy.

In much of southern Iraq, for example, real power increasingly lies with Shiite militias that serve religious leaders and enforce a rule of strict Islamic mores and second-class treatment of women. Now, the prosecutions of journalists suggests that the new Iraqi government is at another crossroads. Will it revert to state-sanctioned intimidation of the news media or allow the sort of free-flowing exchange of ideas that flourish in newspapers, blogs and other media in the Western world?

"These cases set a terrible precedent and are sure to make any Iraqi journalist think twice before writing about powerful political figures," said Joel Campagna, senior program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog group in New York.

As with other nations newly liberated from authoritarianism, Iraq is still testing the limits of responsible free speech, and some of the name-calling and rumor-mongering that goes on clearly oversteps the boundaries. Many of Mr. Qadir's criticisms exceeded what would be tolerated in other Middle East countries, particularly his assertions about the sexual proclivities of the Barzani clan.

A number of Kurdish journalists who have called Mr. Qadir's imprisonment outrageous say they are nevertheless uncomfortable with some of his writings, calling them offensive and reckless. Indeed, Mr. Qadir said in a prison interview that he had apologized for parts of articles he now says contained improper personal insults. But he vowed to continue to criticize official corruption, including what he says are secret abductions by the police.

But the Iraqi authorities increasingly go beyond merely responding to unfair or false claims, Mr. Campagna and other observers say, using the courts as an instrument of intimidation to discourage reporting on corruption and abuses of power. Iraq, he added, "is following the poor example of its neighbors who routinely detain, criminally prosecute or imprison reporters for their work."

For its part, the Kurdistan Democratic Party says almost all Mr. Qadir's accusations are false. His arrest came after he was served with a proper warrant, said a senior official of the K.D.P. and the Parastin, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. He said Mr. Qadir had been given a fair trial and had not, as he has asserted, been abused in prison, forced to sleep in his own excrement, threatened with torture or denied food and water. Massoud Barzani "has nothing against him," the official added.

The Kurdish party tolerates reporting of official corruption and supports narrowing defamation laws so fewer types of articles might be subject to criminal prosecution, the official said. But he also said defamatory writings intended "as a political weapon" should still be subject to prosecution. Mr. Qadir's writings would fall in this category, he said.

Mr. Qadir's case has drawn international attention and put enormous pressure on Kurdish leaders. The senior official of the K.D.P., which controls western Kurdistan, said that Mr. Qadir's sentence would be reduced to one year and that his family would be permitted to bail him out. The senior official said a court would make the ruling in the next few weeks.

But Mr. Qadir still could face serious criminal jeopardy from complaints yet to be prosecuted, said Ismael Khalil Shakeeb, the presiding criminal court judge in Erbil and one of the judges who sentenced him last month. "He has insulted many other people," he said.

Mr. Qadir, 48, credits a statement issued by the United States over the Voice of America for possibly saving his life. An American official in Baghdad said Washington had discussed the case with Kurdish officials. Delegations including Austrian officials have paid prison visits, he says, adding pressure that greatly improved his living conditions.

Kurdistan is, in most respects, the most westernized and prosperous part of the new Iraq, having experienced a decade or more of virtual independence even before the American invasion. But writers here face threats and arrest for running afoul of the K.D.P., Mr. Qadir says.

"We have no freedom of the press," he said in an interview conducted Friday afternoon in the Erbil prison. "It's all arbitrary; they can arrest anybody. I never thought I'd be a victim of the Kurds."

Mr. Qadir's complaints about curbs on press freedoms are supported by Rebin Ismael, a former senior editor of a large Kurdish newspaper who now runs an American aid organization in Erbil.

In Kurdistan, he says, it is not unusual for the secret police to threaten or arrest journalists who fail to toe the line of the K.D.P. More than a dozen journalists have been arrested in recent years, he says, but the cases are never reported on in Kurdistan because other journalists fear saying anything critical of the party.

"Generally, any journalists or writers not connected to the party are under threats," Mr. Ismael said. "If you write anything not in their interest, they will arrest you or call your cellphone and threaten you."

He said he and his wife, a Kurdish reporter whose articles have mocked the party, had not slept in their house for nearly a month, having fled after she received threatening calls.

The senior Kurdish party official described Mr. Ismael as a credible and respected journalist but took issue with his comments. Told the names of four of the writers Mr. Ismael said had been arrested, the official said the four had not been arrested but had been called to "interviews" by the police.

He said he did not know how many other journalists had submitted to such police interviews. He said only one writer aside from Mr. Qadir had been sent to prison in recent years.

Mr. Qadir, born and raised in Kurdistan, is now a citizen of Austria, where he studied and lived until 1991, when Kurdistan was effectively liberated after the Persian Gulf war. He returned to teach law and political science at Salahaddin University but clashed with the administration as he lectured students about K.D.P. abuses, he said. Nepotism and graft are still rampant today, he said.

He left the university a few years ago, he said, and returned to Austria, where he continued to write about Kurdistan for Internet publications, adopting a strident and disparaging tone that pushed his criticism well past what anyone living here would contemplate. He accused K.D.P. officials of siphoning public funds and spying for the K.G.B. and the Israeli Mossad, and he wrote that one Barzani clan member was homosexual and another had had trysts with Russian women.

He say he regrets calling Massur Barzani, the Kurdish leader's son, a pimp. But he argues that the Parastin often use prostitutes to gather information.

The senior K.D.P. official said the criticism of the Parastin and the personal attacks on the Barzanis were all false. But he admitted he did not know whether the Parastin used prostitutes to aid intelligence gathering.

If freed and allowed to stay in Kurdistan, Mr. Qadir says he will continue to criticize what he characterizes as the police-state atmosphere in Kurdistan. "I never knew Kurdistan was in this shape, where people get abducted by the secret police," he said.

www.nytimes.com 

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