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Middle East
Iraqi journalists stage protest
Hundreds of people demonstrate in Baghdad against "censorship and intimidation".
Last Modified: 14 Aug 2009 16:33 GMT
Journalists have complained about a government
plan to restrict some websites [EPA]

Hundreds of Iraqi journalists have marched through Baghdad, the capital, to protest against government censorship and intimidation.

Friday's demonstration came amid a dispute over a series of newspaper editorials suggesting that the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) political party may have been involved in a bank robbery.

Jalal Eddin Saghir, a leader of the SIIC, has threatened to sue Ahmed Abdul-Hussein, a journalist with the state-run Al-Sabah newspaper, for suggesting that the party could have staged the robbery to raise money for national elections in January 2010.

The SIIC has denied the accusations, but it has acknowledged that a bodyguard of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, an Iraqi vice-president and senior party official, has been charged over the heist.

"Journalists and media workers have lost 247 of their colleagues over the past six years because of attacks and violations," Emad al-Khafaji, a journalist and writer, told the crowd on Friday.

"The participants in this demonstration have confirmed they will not back down in the face of intimidation and threats."

Website ban considered

Journalists are also concerned about government moves to ban some websites, including those deemed pornographic or to encourage bomb making, prostitution and "terrorism".

Last month, the government passed a bill allowing imported publications to be screened.

"Blocking internet websites and censoring books is a new dictatorship," Muhammad al-Rubaie, a human rights activist at the demonstration, said.

The crowd at Friday's protest, who carried signs saying "do not kill the truth", shouted: "Yes, yes to freedom; no, no to being muzzled".

The Iraqi constitution, which was drawn up in 2005, enshrines freedom of the press and publication unless "public order or morality" is violated.

Constitution

Ahmed Rushdi, an Iraqi journalist, told Al Jazeera that the government was considering laws to "capture and control any data broadcast, published or uploaded from Iraq".

"This is not acceptable, this is an error in the constitution ... we'll not accept any capturing, we will not accept any silencing, I will not accept to break my pen for [the prime minister] Maliki's sake or any other government," he said.

"Before 2003 there was such silencing, now there will be no silencing."

Under Saddam Hussein, the deposed Iraqi president, the media was heavily censored.

Since the US-led invasion in 2003 that led to Hussein's removal from power, about 200 print outlets, 60 radio stations and 30 television channels have been set up.

But many media outlets are dominated by sectarian and party patrons who use them to push their own agendas.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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