Iraq - Hate campaign by Shiite party against government newspaper journalist



    MONTREAL, Aug. 11 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders is very
concerned about an offensive launched by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
(ISCI), a Shiite political party, against the government newspaper Al-Sabah
and its news editor, Ahmed Abd Al-Hussein, over an article he wrote for the 4
August issue blaming the ISCI for a major bank holdup two weeks ago. Hussein
has received death threats.
    "This hate campaign and the calls for the death of Hussein, a well-known
journalist, writer and poet, is unacceptable," Reporters Without Borders said.
"The threats must stop at once. All Hussein did was expose a scandal involving
public figures. The authorities must take the appropriate measures to protect
this journalist and put a stop to this outrage."
    Hussein's article accused the ISCI of being behind the holdup of a branch
of the Al-Rafidin bank in the Baghdad district of Al-Zawiya on 28 July, in
which eight security guards were killed. It was one of the biggest holdups
since 2003, with a haul of nearly 4 million dollars. The alleged perpetrators,
who were arrested three days later, including Capt. Jaafar Lazem, one of the
bodyguards of Vice-President Adil Abd Al-Mahdi, an ISCI leader.
    In a news conference, interior minister Jawad Al-Bolani stressed the
hold-up's underlying political motive without going into details.
    Hussein's article said the ISCI had intended to use the holdup money to
buy votes in next January's parliamentary elections. Several of the ISCI's
rivals had accused it of distributing blankets in poor neighbourhoods in
return for votes in last January's governorate council elections.
    The ISCI immediately threatened to sue Al-Sabah and then, in a Friday
sermon relayed to all of the ISCI's mosques, one of the party's leaders,
Sheikh Jalal Eddin Al-Saghir (a member of the commission that drafted the
constitution in 2005), condemned the politicisation of the media, accused the
government of manipulation and called for Hussein to be tried and put to
death.
    Saghir also announced that he would sue Al-Sabah and all the other media
and websites that linked the party to the holdup, including opposition
websites that support deposed President Saddam Hussein's Baath movement. An
ISCI parliamentarian and militias that support the party also voiced direct
threats against the journalist.
    Al-Sabah has reacted by urging Iraq's highest-ranking Shiite religious
leader, Ali Al-Sistani, to intervene in the controversy, while journalists and
intellectuals took part in a rally organised yesterday in Baghdad by the Union
of Men of Letters and the Journalistic Freedom Observatory to protest against
an increase in threats and attacks on freedom of opinion and expression in
Iraq.
    Hussein, who also edits the newspaper's arts and culture pages, has taken
indefinite leave for family and health reasons, Al-Sabah editor in chief Falah
Al-Michaal said. Pressure is being put on the newspaper's staff to prevent
Hussein's return.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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