Interview: Kurdish writer learns words are
risky in new Iraq
By Shamal Aqrawi
ERBIL, Kurdistan-Iraq, April 7 (Reuters) -
Writer Kamal Karim came away with a troubling lesson
from his Kurdish homeland in Kurdistan (northern
Iraq) -- an opinion can get you a 30-year jail
The Iraqi Kurd, an Austrian citizen, returned to the
semi- autonomous Kurdistan expecting a new era of
human rights after a U.S.-led invasion toppled
Saddam Hussein in 2003.
But he soon learned the risks of exposing what he
said was the abuse of power by regional President
After facing a 30-year prison term in December for
defamation that was reduced to 18 months in a
retrial, he was pardoned on Monday.
"It affected me so much. It proved to me that the
road to justice in Kurdistan will be long," he told
Reuters in an interview this week.
Karim was arrested by the Parastin intelligence
service attached to Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) after he wrote articles on a Web site
accusing the Kurdish leader of abusing power and
Dr Kamal Said Qadir, Austrian citizen, an
international legal expert, writer and human rights
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists
said the first time he appeared in court Karim had
five minutes to confer with his lawyer before he was
sentenced to 30 years, prompting European Union
president Austria to call for his release.
Karim, 48, was retried and given a 1-1/2 year
sentence and eventually released.
The experience has left him disillusioned with
Kurdistan, where Barzani and his rival Jalal
Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),
now Iraq's president, promised to deliver democracy
after their long-time enemy Saddam was ousted.
PRIDE ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS
"The problem in Kurdistan is not just with political
parties but also in society. It lacks enlightenment
in many subjects starting with democratic principles
and human rights."
The Kurdish north prides itself on having a better
human rights record than public bodies elsewhere in
Iraq, where violence has generated accusations of
pro-government militia death squads and raised fears
of sectarian civil war.
It has been stable but political rivalries and
unrest over poor services have raised questions over
how long it can last.
Karim said he would return to Kurdistan after
spending time in Austria, and intends to keep
writing about corruption.
"I will work for the principles of democracy and
fighting financial and administrative corruption and
serve people who are deprived of their rights such
as women and children.
But Karim says he will be cautious.
"I will continue criticism but in a different style
than the one I used recently. I used some words and
expressions which should not be used in academic
writing," he said.
"I will establish a centre for justice and human
Like many Kurds, he was pleased to hear this week
that Saddam could soon face new charges of genocide
against the Kurds in the late 1980s. Kurdish
authorities accuse him of killing tens of thousands
and razing villages across the region.
And he believes most Kurds support human rights.
"I am optimistic about the future, and the many
people who defended me proves the majority of the
Kurdish people want to support justice."
"The country needs 5 to 10 years until it can
overcome terrorism and corruption, then the
principles of democracy can be applied," said Karim.
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