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 Nechirvan Barzani lifts lawsuits against ruling party's critics in Iraqi Kurdistan  

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Nechirvan Barzani lifts lawsuits against ruling party's critics in Iraqi Kurdistan  10.1.2011  

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KDP lifts lawsuits against independent Kurdish journalists, writers

January 10, 2011


ERBIL-Hewlęr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — A top official from one of the two main parties in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region said on Monday that the party has decided to withdraw all lawsuits it had filed against Kurdish journalists.

"As a goodwill gesture, we announce that we have decided to withdraw all lawsuits and complaints registered against newspapers and writers," Nechirvan Barzani, deputy head of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) said at a news conference.

"We hope to see responsible work" from Kurdistan's journalists, said Barzani, nephew of the Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani.

Media rights groups and editors of Kurdistan publications had said that newspapers and journalists in the region had been hit by a barrage of lawsuits from political parties and politicians, especially from the KDP.                 

“The KDP is not against freedom of expression at all,” said Nechirvan Barzani.

When previously asked about the lawsuits, the KDP said it was merely defending itself.

"The reason for the KDP resorting to filing a large number of lawsuits against journalists is... self-defence," Ari Harseen of the party's media office said.

In the last six months the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has seen a spate of litigation cases lodged against the media by political parties – 60 in total – that has alarmed both local civil society organizations and international media watchdogs.

The KDP, as one of the two ruling parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), has faced particular criticism, because it has been the major complainant in these cases, and it has targeted only independent and opposition journalists and writers.

“The KDP is not against freedom of expression at all,” said Barzani, in an exclusive interview with Rudaw – his first with the media since he was elected KDP deputy chairman in mid-December.

“We have always said there should be dialogue between journalists and the authorities, rather than hatred and animosity. Journalists should have free access to information.”

Aras Harseen, Kurdistan Democratic Party’s media secretary in Sulaimaniyah office, in a news conference stated that the party lifted its lawsuits against both authors, Aras Fatah and Mariwan Wrya Qani, KIU website reported.

Reporters Without Borders RSF voices its support for a demonstration being organized in Kurdistan last week, to defend media freedom and free expression in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. The two Kurdish academics, Mariwan Wrya Qani and Aras Fatah, are being prosecuted over the column they wrote jointly for the 8 June 2010 issue of the independent newspaper Awene entitled “What did the Kurdistan regional president say?

The KDP, as one of the two ruling parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government, has filed dozens of lawsuits against those media, independent journalists and writers that criticized it.

The KDP and the KRG have recently been subject to some searing criticism over the passing of the Demonstration Law, which is viewed by many as an attempt to suppress freedom of speech, and has caused a wave of protests throughout the region.

However, with the lifting of the defamation lawsuits, Barzani, who has pledged reform in the KDP, is taking his first concrete step toward supporting freedom of the press in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I applaud him [Barzani] and this is perhaps part of the reform measures he has promised to undertake,” said Sirwan Rashid, managing editor of Rozhnama,
www.ekurd.netan opposition Gorran party newspaper.

“Personally, I believe it is a progressive step taken by the KDP and particularly by Kak Nechirvan,” said Rashid, using a respectful Kurdish word for “mister,” adding that he hoped there would be more reforms on the way from the KDP.

Just hours before Barzani announced his pledge to rescind the lawsuits, Erbil’s Primary Court ordered non-partisan Lvin magazine to pay the KDP 35 million Iraqi dinars (approximately US$30,000) as a result of a defamation lawsuit lodged by the party. Lvin is appealing the case.

According to RSF, one lawsuit filed by the KDP against magazine Rozhnama sought one billion dollars in damages.

The lawsuit was over an article that "accused the KDP and its ruling coalition partner, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), of helping to smuggle refined petroleum products from Kurdistan into Iran in violation of the international sanctions," RSF said.

“These lawsuits have damaged the KDP’s reputation a great deal,” said Lvin’s deputy editor, Hemin Baqir. “We see this as a reasonable decision from the KDP. It will restore part of the KDP’s damaged reputation.”

But, Baqir said other influential KDP members had often prevented Barzani’s promises from eventuating in the past.

“He can’t make final decisions,” said Baqir. “[But] since he is now the actual deputy-chairman of the KDP, we hope that the KDP respects his decision.”

Barzani said the work of journalists and writers was to provide information, criticize and promote dialogue.

“Not only are we not against that, but also we see it as our duty to safeguard their freedom,” he said, adding that he hoped his initiative would pave the way for a media, which saw its sole duty as being to report facts, rather than to publish libel.

“We hope that this step is taken in good faith,” said Barzani. “[We] urge journalists to become more responsible. Journalists should not work with hatred, [as] this has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the media.”

Barzani said everyone in Kurdistan was subject to criticism, without exception.

“We believe criticizing the work and performance of the President of the Kurdistan Region and the government is normal and positive,” he said. “It is the people’s right as President Barzani is the leader of the people, and the government is the government of the people.”    

Copyright, respective author or news agency, AFP | rudaw.net | ekurd.net | kurdiu.org | Agencies

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