Monday, May 12, 2008

Suppression of Free Speech Continues In Iraq

The government of Iraq is locked in a life or death struggle with forces that oppose it. One of the consequences of that battle is the right of a free press to report what is happening in Iraq. There are numerous examples of how this is happening, but this is one instance where free speech is being censored in Iraq in the name of preserving law and order:
Only 6 days after the occasion of World Press Freedom, Iraqi media witnessed a new violation against freedom of speech.

Yesterday Iraqi forces closed Al Ahad Radio Station an excuse of adopting provocative political speech. I have many friends who listen to this radio as I do; I asked my friends if they notice any instagative tones in the programs or newscast of this radio ….. the answers were negative - always. This radio was broadcasting religious programs and these kinds of programs that depend on the audience's participations in addition to newscasts. Iraqi authorities closed the radio upon orders from Iraqi cabinet office because the current fight with Mahdi army. The order said that this radio provokes sectarianism and violence.

Journalistic freedom observator said it was a violation of freedom of speech because it wasn't implemented according to a court order; neither had the government given any warning. That if we take for granted they were using provoking speech.

Al Ahad Radio belongs to Sadr trend, the trend that is considered now as in opposition of the government. They are oppositions –may be this is the only fault.

Iraqi government headed by Al Maliki use the same policy of extinct regime, the policy of eliminating the oppositions. I hope that our politicians in the current government remember that they were opposition one day and they wanted people to hear their voice.

[Disclaimer-"Inside Iraq" is a blog updated by Iraqi journalists working for McClatchy Newspapers. They are based in Baghdad and outlying provinces. These are firsthand accounts of their experiences. Their complete names are withheld for security purposes.]

During the handover of control of Iraq in 2004, there were numerous stories such as this about "free speech" in Iraq:
There are many things lacking in newly sovereign Iraq, but freedom of expression isn't one of them. Radio Dijla, a private talk-radio station, offers Baghdadis a chance to participate in frank, open discussions on a variety of topics ranging from electricity blackouts to Iraq's political future. The formula works -- after just two months on the air, Radio Dijla is already the most popular station in Baghdad.

The trend of shuttering radio stations has been a consistent policy of the Iraqi government under Prime Minister al-Maliki:
Representatives of the Government of Iraq entered a mosque in Baghdad today [November 14, 2007] to close the offices and shut down the radio station of the Association of Muslim Scholars- a Sunni religious network often seen as supporting or affiliated with some of the more radical elements of the Sunni insurgency, including elements of al-Qaeda.

While it is understandable that the al-Maliki government would work to oppose anti-government forces, the closure of Al-Ahad seems more directed at punishing the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr:
Al-Ahad radio station, located in al-Baladiyat neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, was established in 2006, and followers of the Sadr movement represent the wide audience of the station's broadcast that covers the Iraqi capital, supported by offices at a number of Iraq's provinces.

He called on media companies and the government to reconsider the station's programming, because "it does not call for violence, but for peace as a replacement education for violence."

"Government's claim that the station's office occupies a state-owned property is incorrect, as we rented this place for 10 years from the Trade Union," he said.
"The station will employ peaceful methods, and will resort to the judiciary and parliament to settle the issue," he noted.

From its side, the Sadrist bloc at the Iraqi parliament had a press conference on Thursday noon, criticizing the U.S. raid operation that targeted al-Ahad radio station's office.

The conference described stopping the station's broadcast as handcuffing the freedom of the press.

The oppression of journalists who work for various media outlets in Iraq has been documented each year of the Iraq War by organizations such as Reporters Without Borders. According to their 2008 report, they state that:
Iraqi journalists rejoiced at their new-found freedom of expression when Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in March 2003, despite the chaotic security situation. Nearly five years later, things are more dangerous than ever. At least 56 media workers were killed in 2007 and journalists faced increasing restrictions imposed by the Iraqi authorities.

Violence has not abated in Iraq and the toll among journalists continues to grow. The UN Security Council resolution (1738) of December 2006 on protection of journalists in war zones did not lead to Iraqi efforts to punish those attacking media workers. At least 47 journalists and nine media assistants were killed during 2007. More than half the recorded physical attacks on the media were in Baghdad despite the huge presence there of Iraqi forces and US troops.

A Reporters Without Borders delegation went to Baghdad in May 2007 bringing money for the families of murdered journalists. The organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, met President Jalal Talabani and asked his government to ensure that killers of journalists were punished.

Foreign journalists have still not returned to Iraq, mainly for safety reasons but also because insurance coverage can cost thousands of dollars a day.

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