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IRAQ: Gay-sex story lands writer in jail

December 6, 2008 |  1:03 pm

A court in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region has sentenced a freelance journalist to six months in prison and a fine for writing an article about gay sex, a penalty that media groups say violates the law and underscores the lack of press freedom in Kurdistan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, groups that monitor press freedom across the world, are among the international organizations demanding the release of Adel Hussein, who was arrested Nov. 24 in the Kurdish city of Irbil. "I find the verdict strange," said Kamal Raoof, the editor of the Kurdish newspaper Hawlati, which published Hussein's story. "The government claims there is freedom in the region."

Hussein, whose article appeared in Hawlati in April 2007, is the second Kurdish journalist to land in prison in the past month. On Nov. 8, the editor in chief of the Hawal newspaper, Shwan Dawoody, was given a month in jail and a fine for a series of stories his paper ran that were critical of the judiciary in Sulaymaniya, which is part of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

The court that sentenced Hussein, who is a doctor specializing in sexual and reproductive diseases, said he had violated "public custom" by writing about health issues related to gay sex. But Hussein's lawyer and the Kurdistan Journalists' Union said the court relied upon a 1969 law that was recently superseded by a law protecting press freedom and banning the jailing of journalists.

Raoof said Hussein's story was scientific, not prurient, and did not encourage homosexual behavior, as the court suggested. Homosexuality is taboo across Iraq, including in Kurdistan, and anyone seen as promoting it or practicing it is liable to be shunned by society, or worse. 

In its most recent report on human rights in Iraq, the United Nations took aim at Kurdistan for violating freedom-of-expression guarantees. The report, released a few days after Hussein's arrest and sentence, said the U.N. "continued to receive reports of intimidation and/or arrests of media professionals in the Kurdistan region, in particular those who had reported on issues of public interest."

-- Asso Ahmed in Sulaymaniya

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