Bludgeoning Iraq's "Burgeoning Free Press"

| Fri Sep. 29, 2006 12:47 PM EDT

It's a rotten time to be an Iraqi journalist. If being kidnapped and murdered by insurgents or detained indefinitely by the U.S. military aren't bad enough, now the government is cracking down. From today's New York Times:

Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.

Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who "publicly insults" the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison. [snip]

The office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lately refused to speak with news organizations that report on sectarian violence in ways that the government considers inflammatory; some outlets have been shut down.

Meanwhile, back inside our own executive media bubble... President Bush, earlier this year: "I like the fact in Iraq that there's a burgeoning free press, there's a lot of press, which is a positive sign. It's a healthy indication."

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