Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Step two!





With Lolo, I learned how to eat small green chill peppers raw with dinner (plenty of rice), and, away from the dinner table, I was introduced to dog meat (tough), snake meat (tougher), and roasted grasshopper (crunchy). Like many Indonesians, Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths. He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger meat for us to share.



In Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq, everyone's targeted and that includes journalists. Nouri has long been anti-press. As we noted yesterday, Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera -- link has video and text) has asked Iraqi President Jalal Talabani about charges that Prime Minister and thug Nouri al-"Maliki is on the road to becoming a dictator" and Talabani denied the charge and stated, "There are some shortages -- it is not only him responsible. I am also responsible. I am responsible for looking after everything to guard the constitution. I must also speak, so we are all responsible for the shortages in the government." Yesterday's snapshot didn't have a working link to Jane Arraf's interview, my apologies. If Talabani agrees Iraq is his responsibility as well, he's going to have to learn to support and advocate on behalf of the press -- something he's never done, even before the Iraq War.
But let's focus on Nouri and his loathing of the press. At the start of the year, Canada's Centre For Law And Democracy released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "Freedoms in Iraq: An Increasingly Repressive Legal Net."
In recent years, the government has introduced a barrage of legislation relating to the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly. In some cases, this legislation appears to be well intentioned, while in other cases positive interntions are less apparent. Regardless, all of these new laws, most of which have not yet been adopted, are problematical from the perspective of constitutional and international human rights guarantees.
This Report reviews five pieces of legislation affecting the freedoms of assembly and expression that have been introduced in recent years in Iraq. Of these, only one, the Journalistic Rights Law (Journalist Law), has actually been passed into law, in August 2011. The other four -- the draft Commission of Media and Communication Law (draft CMC Law), the draft Informatics Crimes Law (draft Internet Law), the draft Political Parties Law (draft Parties Law) and the draft Law of Expression, Assembly, and Peaceful Protest (draft Assembly Law) -- have not yet been formally adopted as laws.
[. . .]
One of the most problematical features of the five laws is that, taken together, they impose wide-ranging restrictions on the content of what may be published or broadcast through the media, during demonstrations, over the Internet and by political parties. These are in addition to the many content restrictions which are still found int he old 1969 Penal Code. A few issues receive particular attention in the new laws, such as public morals and more issues, incitement, in particular to religious hatred or criticism, and perhaps not surprisingly, public order and terrorism. Many of these fail to meet the standards of international law regarding restrictions on freedom of expression.
If a country really needed strong laws to provide a free press, it would be Iraq. Since becoming prime minister in 2006, Nouri's done nothing but attack the press. His disregard and hatred for it is well known and has influenced many incidents, most infamously a New York Times reporter had a gun aimed at them 'for fun' in the latter half of 2006, a gun aimed a pretend shot taken by one of Nouri's security forces who found the whole incident hilarious.
Therefore the proposals aren't really that surprising. Frightening, but not surprising. Of the proposed CMC Law, the Centre For Law And Democracy notes it is obsessed with "public morals" while the proposed Internet Law dictates that "moral, family or social values" must not be offended and similar dictates apply with the proposed Assembly Law. The Centre For Law And Democracy notes that speech that offends due to ideas can't be legitimately banned, the speech needs to do "harm to society" -- even so, the paper should be very clear -- and isn't -- because Nouri calls many things harmful to society including Iraqi politicians who criticize him.
Furthermore, the prohibited acts in these laws go well beyond public order and terrorism as normally understood. They also include undermining the constitution, jeopardising national interests, sending threatening or insulting messages or fabricated news, promoting terrorist ideologies (as opposed to terrorism per se) and publishing information about the manufacture of tools or materials usedd in terrorists acts.
These broad prohibitions simply cannot be justified. It is perfectly legitimate to 'undermine' (or criticise or seek to change) the constitution, as long as this is done through peaceful means. Otherwise, it would be a crime to seek to achiever any amendments to the constitution. The concept of 'national interests' is impossibly flexible. In many countries, it is a crime to make threats, but sending insulting messages is often perfectly legitimate or at worst may warrant a civil defamation suit. Similarly, promoting terrorism ideologies, whatever they may be, is not the same thing as inciting terrorism, and the narrower offence should be preferred.
Page 27 of the report notes the Journalists Rights bill. (PDF format warning, click here for that proposed law.) It was proposed in 2009 and modified in 2011. The modified version defines a journalist as "Every individual practicing a full time journalism job." This would leave out stringers, part-timers, freelancers and many other media workers. That's not an accident. The report doesn't point it out but Nouri's always attacked the press, always wanted them monitored as well. Let's drop back to the October 3, 2006 snapshot:
Operation Happy Talkers are on the move and telling you that Nouri al-Maliki offers a 'four-point' peace plan. You may have trouble reading of the 'four-point' plan because the third point isn't about "peace" or "democracy" so reports tend to ignore it. The first step has already been (rightly) dismissed by Andrew North (BBC) of the "local security committees": "In fact, most neighourhoods of Baghdad set up their own local security bodies some time ago to protect themselves -- because they do not trust the authorities to look after them." AP reports that the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of the 'peace' plan (reality title: "continued carnage plan"). Step three? Let's drop back to the September 7th snapshot:
["]Switching to the issue of broadcasting, were they showing episodes of Barney Miller or NYPD Blue? Who knows but police pulled the plug on the satellite network al-Arabiya in Baghdad. CNN was told by a company official (Najib Ben Cherif) that the offices "is being shut for a month." AP is iffy on who gave the order but notes that Nouri al-Malike started making warnings/threats to television stations back in July. CNN reports: "A news alert on Iraqi State TV said the office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the office closed for a month."["]
Ah, yes, the puppet's war with the press. The so-called peace plan is more of the same. The third 'plank' is about the media. Which is why the "brave" US media repeatedly cites the first two and stays silent while a free media (something a democracy is dependent upon) walks the plank.
It's disgusting and shameful, the third 'plank.' The whole 'plan' is a joke. Reuters is one of the few to go beyond the first two 'steps' but even it does a really poor job and those over coverage of Iraq in the mainstream (producers to suits) are very concerned about this. (So why don't they report it?) The "plan" isn't a plan for peace, it's a plan for the puppet to attempt to save his own ass for a few more months. Lee Keath (AP) is only one of many ignoring the third step (possibly AP thinks readers are unable to count to four?) but does note that al-Maliki took office last May with a 24-point plan that, to this day, "has done little to stem the daily killings." Nor will this so-called 'peace plan.' The US military and the American "ambassador" have announced that Nouri al-Maliki better show some results ('after all we've paid' going unspoken).
So al-Maliki pulls a page from Paul Bremer's book and decides to go after the media. For those who've forgotten, on March 28, 2004, al-Hawza was closed down as a result of running a cartoon of Bremer leading to the violence in Falluja in April 2004.
Nouri's attacks on the press are as lengthy as his time in office as prime minister. It includes bring a lawsuit against the Guardian -- among others. January 12, 2011, Josh Halliday (Guardian) reported:
The Guardian has won its appeal against an Iraqi court ruling which judged that the paper had defamed the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) brought the libel action after the Guardian reported criticism of al-Maliki and the INIS in an article published in April 2009. The Al-Karakh primary court judged in November 2009 that the report was defamatory and ordered the Guardian to pay a fine of 100m dinar (£52,000).
However, the Iraqi appeal court ruled on 28 December that the article did not cause any defamation or harm to al-Maliki or the INIS, overturning the earlier court ruling.
With the above and so much more, these measures, largely drafted by Nouri and his inner circle, are anti-press isn't surprising. The Centre For Law And Democracy notes "we see in the collective approach of the five laws a dramatic lack of respect for the fundamental human rights to freedom of assembly and expression. In most cases, these rules seek to impose unwarranted restrictions on the exercise of these rights. Taken together with the broad content restrictions, as well as the undue degree of government control over the exercise of these rights, the five laws would impose very severe constraints indeed on basic human rights."
The findings are disturbing. What's even more disturbing is that the findings really aren't new. They've very similar to what the United Nations Assistance Mission For Iraq (UNAMI) found in the second half of 2009 [PDF format warning] Human Rights Report. For example:
Some of the law's provisions, however, give rise to concern. For example, the law gives broad discretionary power to govenrment, which could be used to restrict the right to freedom of expression. Several porvisions of the law clearly inhibit the realization of the rights of media workers; the prohibition of publishing materials which "compromise the security and stability of the country" is open to broad interpretation and may be abused by authorities. The draft law does not provide a guarantee for the protection of sources: rather, provisions state that the law requires the source to be revealed.
The draft law's narrow definition of a journalist as "one who works for press . . . and who is affiliated with the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate" raises concerns about the ability of other media workers, such as editors, commentators, blogger, and freelancers to exercise their right to express their views publicly and in effect imposes a de facto obligation to register journalists. According to the law, media organizations operating in Iraq must issue contracts to journalists that have been prepared and authorized by the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate. Not only contradicting article 39 of the Constitution which stipulates that no one shall be compelled to join any party.
It's nearly three years later and the proposed laws still have the same exact problems. There's been no improvement. In fact, it has worsened. In January of this year, the Society for Defending Press Freedom's Oday Hattem told Al Jazeera, "There is no freedom to workin journalism here -- if we compare the jounalism in Iraq with the West. [. . .] The political and freedom of speech situations are both descending. Maliki launched an attack on freedom of speech in February 2010, when he arrested tens of journalists and human rights activsts after the beginning of demonstrations in Baghdad."
I believe he's referring to February 2011. February 25, 2011 saw major protests in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. It also saw Nouri crackdown on the press and activists. From February 26, 2011:
Yesterday Iraqis made their voices heard in multiple demonstrations. Wael Grace and Adam Youssef (Al Mada) report the disturbing news that after the demonstrations, four journalists who had been reporting on the protests were eating lunch when Iraqi security forces rushed into the restaurant and arrested them with eye witnesses noting that they brutal attacked the journalists inside the restaurant, cursing the journalists as they beat them with their rifle handles. One of the journalists was Hossam Serail who says that they left Tahrir Square with colleagues including journalists, writers intellectuals, filmmakers. They went into the restaurant where the Iraqi military barged in, beat and kicked them, hit them in the face and head with the handles of their rifles, cursed the press and journalists, put him the trunk of a Hummer. This is Nouri al-Maliki's Iraq -- the Iraq the US forces prop up at the command of the Barack Obama. Stephanie McCrummen (Washington Post) adds:

{}Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq." {}
Among those arrested and tortured were journalist and activist Hadi al-Mahdi. NPR's Kelly McEvers interviewed Hadi for Morning Edition after he had been released and she noted he had been "beaten in the leg, eyes, and head." He explained that he was accused of attempting to "topple" Nouri al-Maliki's government -- accused by the soldiers under Nouri al-Maliki, the soldiers who beat him. Excerpt:
Hadi al-Mahdi: I replied, I told the guy who was investigating me, I'm pretty sure that your brother is unemployed and the street in your area is unpaved and you know that this political regime is a very corrupt one.
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was later put in a room with what he says were about 200 detainees, some of them journalists and intellectuals, many of them young protesters.
Hadi al-Mahdi: I started hearing voices of other people. So, for instance, one guy was crying, another was saying, "Where's my brother?" And a third one was saying, "For the sake of God, help me."
Kelly McEvers: Mahdi was shown lists of names and asked to reveal people's addresses. He was forced to sign documents while blindfolded. Eventually he was released. Mahdi says the experience was worse than the times he was detained under Saddam Hussein. He says the regime that's taken Sadam's place is no improvement on the past. This, he says, should serve as a cautionary tale for other Arab countries trying to oust dictators.
Hadi al-Mahdi: They toppled the regime, but they brought the worst -- they brought a bunch of thieves, thugs, killers and corrupt people, stealers.
September 8, 2011, Hadi al-Mahdi was assassinated in his home. Madhi had filed a complaint with the courts against the Iraqi security forces for their actions. Mohamed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains, "Hadi al-Mehdi was inside his apartment on Abu Nawas street in central Baghdad when gunmen shot him twice with silencer-equipped pistols, said the ministry official, who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to media."

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