Iraq passes controversial journalism protection law

[JURIST] The Iraqi Parliament [official website, in Arabic] passed a bill [press release, in Arabic] Tuesday proclaiming to guarantee more protections and rights for journalists, although several journalist rights groups have opposed the law's passage. The Journalists Protection Law, originally proposed in August of 2009 [JURIST report] protects journalists from questioning or investigations unless a judge mandates that action. The original bill only protected Iraqi journalists, but the passed law has provisions for foreign media [Aswat al-Iraq report] if they contract with the Iraqi Union of Journalists. Although the law has been long-sought after, several rights organizations have criticized it. Reporters without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website] in March sent a letter [text, PDF] to the Iraqi parliament with recommendations for the bill, including criticizing its overall vagueness, which could result in possible arbitrary enforcement. The group was also troubled by membership in the Iraqi Union of Journalists being a requirement for protection, "given that many journalists in Iraq dispute this union's legitimacy." It also denounced the lack of protections for bloggers and media contributors. The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory [advocacy website, in Arabic], an Iraqi journalism rights group, commented simply that the government will be responsible [Aswat al-Iraq report] if abuses continue. A Movement for Change party member and parliamentarian, Sardar Abdullah, said the law does not represent the people or journalists [Aswat al-Iraq report] and that it was passed with a bare majority while many legislators were absent.

RWB ranked Iraq 130 in their 2010 Press Freedom Index [text]. 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]. Earlier this week, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official websites] both reported that human rights abuses continue to plague various regions of Iraq [JURIST report]. The study found that over 3,000 civilians were killed by insurgents and terrorist groups, with public officials, community and religious leaders, journalists, and medical and education professionals constituting the majority of targeted civilians. In October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported that journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan who criticize the government are facing increased intimidation, violence and lawsuits [JURIST report].

 

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