International media watchdog groups call for release of freelance journalist sentenced to six months in jail
SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — International media watchdog groups called Wednesday, Dec. 3 for the release of a freelance journalist jailed in northern Iraq for violating a public decency law by writing a story about homosexuality.
Adel Hussein was sentenced Nov. 24 to six months in jail by a court in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish-ruled region of northern Iraq, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.
Hussein also was ordered to pay a fine of about $106, the organizations said. He is being held at Mahata prison in Irbil, about 220 miles north of Baghdad.
"We are astonished to learn that a press case has been tried under the criminal code. What was the point of adopting — and then liberalizing — a press code in the Kurdistan region if people who contribute to the news media are still be tried under more repressive laws," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
The case centers on an April 2007 article Hussein wrote for the independent weekly Hawlati that detailed the physical effects of homosexual sex, the organizations said.
The sentence handed down by the Kurdish court was based on an outdated 1969 Iraqi penal code, said Luqman Malazadah, Hussein’s lawyer. Malazadah told CPJ he has appealed the court decision.
A new law that took effect in October does not recognize a violation of "public custom," also known as public decency, as an offense, CPJ said.
Under the new law, a representative of the region’s Journalist Syndicate must attend a journalist’s trial, but Fatih told CPJ no representative attended Hussein’s trial.
Irbil’s public prosecutor also has filed a lawsuit against Hussein, the magazine’s former chief editor Adnan Osman, and the publisher, Tareq Fateh, according to Reporters Without Borders.
"What was written by the detained journalist was a scientific article and it was not aimed at encouraging homosexuality," said Kamal Raouf, editor of Hawlati. "The article showed the positive and the negative aspects of homosexuality, but the court looked into one angle and it considered the subject as unethical."
Raouf called the verdict a "blow to the freedom in Kurdistan," saying it was an attempt to "silence the journalists and writers."
The Kurdistan Journalist Union condemned the verdict.
"We will appeal this unjust verdict and we hope that Kurdistan officials intervene and solve the problem," said Zirak Kamal, a spokesman for the Kurdish journalist group.