Friday, November 13, 2009

Democracy in Iraq.

During the tenure of George Bush we were told that we were in Iraq in order to spread freedom and democracy. I don't know if any of us were naive enough to believe that, but I also don't think any of us would have expected to find our soldiers to be fighting and dying for this:

An Iraqi court has ordered the Guardian to pay Nouri al-Maliki damages of 100m dinar (£52,000) after supporting a complaint by the Iraqi prime minister's intelligence service that he had been defamed by a Guardian story in April describing him as increasingly autocratic.

The ruling ignored testimony by three expert witnesses from the Iraqi journalists' union summoned by the court, who all said that the article was neither defamatory nor insulting and argued that no damages were warranted.

The Guardian said it would appeal against the verdict, first through Iraqi appeals courts and then the federal court. The judgment was heavily criticised tonight as a further blow against the freedom of Iraq's already embattled news media.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, said: "I was very concerned to hear reports of today's court ruling. Media freedom is vital in any democracy. If the case goes to appeal, I ask the Iraqi authorities to ensure that their courts, which are independent, follow due process in accordance with the Iraqi constitution."

The Guardian have been fined for breaking a law which states that Iraq does, "not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president".

I mean, is this for real? This is the democracy that we are sending people to fight and to die for?

Our own newspapers are being sued - and losing the case in Iraqi courts - for daring to state that Maliki is becoming increasingly autocratic.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said: "This is a dismaying development. Prime minister Maliki is trying to construct a new, free Iraq. Freedom means little without free speech – and means even less if a head of state tries to use the law of libel to punish criticism or dissent. We will vigorously contest this judgment."

The article in question, by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an award-winning staff correspondent for the Guardian, quoted three unnamed members of the Iraqi national intelligence service who claimed that the prime minister was beginning to run Iraqi affairs with an authoritarian hand.

After expert witnesses testified against the award of damages, the court heard evidence from a new, five-member panel who argued that Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president, or to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs. The advice appeared to overlook the fact that Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi citizen.

It's a very strange democracy that we are building in Iraq, where criticism of the ruling powers is, in itself, something which can be punished as a crime.

Rohan Jayasekera, associate editor of Index on Censorship, who is conducting a study of access to information in the runup to Iraq's elections, said: "It's a shame that Maliki has allowed the Iraqi security services to use his name in this way.

"It's a kind of abuse of the prime minister's office. It sends a worrying message to those who hoped for better treatment of the media in Iraq.

"Maliki frequently says that the only justification for silencing the media is if it provokes sectarianism, enmity and hatred. We'd agree with the Iraqi journalists' union and say the [Guardian] article doesn't do that at all."

Muaed al-Lami, dean of the Iraqi Union of Journalists, who contributed to the court submission in support of the Guardian, said: "I feel very upset about this.

"I will help with an appeal because we found there was no insult to the prime minister, or defamation."

This is the democracy we are building? This is what we have spent seven years achieving? We have built a supposed democracy where criticism of those in power by foreigners has been outlawed.

That's a very strange form of democracy.

Click here for full article.

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