IRAQ: Jail sentence for writing about homosexuality

BEIRUT, December 4, 2008 (MENASSAT)—Media watchdog groups are calling for the release of journalist and doctor Adel Hussein, who was sentenced to six months in prison for publishing an article about homosexuality in the Kurdish-ruled region of Northern Iraq. Adel Hussein was sentenced on November 24, 2008 by a Kurdish court in Irbil for violating a public decency law by writing a story about sex and homosexuality. His article was published last year in the newspaper Hawlati in the independent Kurdish city of Sulamaniya.

Hussein, who is a member of the Union of Kurdish Journalists, hosts a medical program on local television in Irbil, and also writes medical articles in Kurdish newspapers. He is currently being held in the main prison in Irbil. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $106. 

Zirk Kamal, the head of the Committee for Defending Journalists' Rights, condemned the sentence, noting that the Kurdistan Journalists Union presented the parliament and the Council of Ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan with a letter of protest.  "We will appeal this unjust verdict and we hope that Kurdistan officials intervene and solve the problem," Kamal said.

Reporters without Borders also released a statement defending Hussein. 

"Sexual practices are part of the individual freedoms that a democratic state is supposed to promote and protect," Reporters Without Borders said. "Furthermore, Hussein did not defend homosexuality. He limited himself to describing a form of behavior from a scientific viewpoint."

The statement continued, "We are astonished to learn that a press case has been tried under the criminal code. What was the point of adopting—and then liberalising—a press code in the Kurdistan region, if people who contribute to the news media are still be tried under more repressive laws?"

The press organization was referring to a new law passed by Iraqi Kurdistan's regional parliament that took effect in October, which gives preference to financial fines over imprisonment in press cases.

But media watchdog groups also point out that the new law no longer considers a violation of "public custom," or public decency, a criminal offense. Hussein, his lawyer, Luqman Malazdah, told the Committee to Protect Journalists  (CPJ), was convicted under an outdated 1969 Iraqi penal code. He also said that in the new law, it is compulsory that a member of the Journalist Syndicate attends Hussein’s trial, but no one did.

Malazdah is appealing the verdict.

Hawlati's publisher , Tareq Fateh, who is also facing a lawsuit, along with former  editor in chief Adnan Osman, told Reporters Without Borders that he does not agree that the content that the content of Hussein's article was in any way indecent. 

"Sex education articles should not be judged according to the standards of public decency," he said.

The current editor, Kamal Raouf, concurred with this view. 

"What was written by the detained journalist was a scientific article and it was not aimed at encouraging homosexuality," he said. "The article showed the positive and the negative aspects of homosexuality, but the court looked into one angle and it considered the subject as unethical."

Raouf called the verdict "a blow to the freedom in Kurdistan," and "an attempt to silence journalists and writers" in the region.

Despite the law passed this year, this is the second time in one month that a court in Iraqi Kurdistan has sent a journalist to prison. The editor in chief of the Kirkuk-based newspaper Hawal was sent to jail for nine days until the decision was overturned and a court ruled that he should be tried under the new law.