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Iraqi government threatens journalists over criticism
Iraqi regulator threatens TV satirist with legal action
Iraqi authorities should stop threatening the pro-Kurdish broadcaster NRT and political satirist Ahmed al-Basheer, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In a letter NRT received August 10, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission inquired whether the broadcaster’s Arabic-language channel would continue airing al-Basheer’s program and threatened to pursue “legal action” if the show’s “violations” continue, according to news reports.
The letter, dated July 30, did not specify what “violations” prompted the threat, according to the reports. The program lampoons politicians and armed groups.
In a July 28 episode, al-Basheer mocked the former head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, who a few days prior had announced his departure from the council to launch a new political movement, Tayyar al-Hikma.
The newly formed movement announced possible plans to form an alliance with the Sadrist Movement and the ruling National Coalition ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2018, according to news reports.
The Iraqi Communications and Media Commission and NRT General Manager Mushrik Abbas did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emails requesting comment.
“Iraqi regulators should not allow themselves to become political enforcers, threatening satirists with legal action for cracking jokes,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “We call on the Iraqi government to cease threatening NRT and political satirist Ahmed al-Basheer and to allow all news media to operate freely.”
In a video statement published on August 11, al-Basheer said that the team behind the show was waiting to receive more information.
“[Politicians] tell you that you have the right to criticize, that it’s a democracy,” he said in the statement. “But when criticism reaches them, they show their real faces.”
In a video released yesterday in response to the regulator’s threats, al-Basheer imagines himself imprisoned for his work. “You will find all fellow journalists here,” an actor playing another prisoner says in the video as al-Basheer joins him in a cell.
According to news reports, Al-Basheer’s program first aired in 2014 on the Iraqi broadcaster Al-Shahid al-Mostaqil, where it developed its style of lampooning politicians and armed groups, but moved to the Iraqi TV channel Al-Sumaria in 2016. In May 2016, after Al-Sumaria broadcasted only a few episodes of the program, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission ordered the channel to stop carrying it, saying the show’s content was defamatory, according to news reports. Since 2016, the show has aired on the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Arabic-language channel and on NRT, according to news reports.
Each episode begins with a reminder that the Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of speech.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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