Monday, March 5, 2012

Curtailing freedom of expression in Iraq

While Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's advisers insist that the political disputes which continue to rage in Iraq are simply "the normal growing pains" of a nascent democracy, actions speak louder than words, as the memo by the National Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq below attests.

Maliki is trying to centralize power in his hands, creating what Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way call in their recent volume of the same name "competitive authoritarianism." Levitsky and Way define competitive authoritarian regimes as "civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents' abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-a-vis their opponents." The core characteristics of such regimes are that "competition is real but unfair." In other words, democracy exists in name only.

Levitsky and Way fail to include any Middle Eastern states in their analysis. However, in Iraq, Maliki's State of Law Coalition is working hard to establish a political system that accords with the notion of "competitive authoritarianism." Maliki has successfully excluded the Sunni dominated al-'Iraqiya Coalition from power and is attempting to marginalize the 2 parties - the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan - which control the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) which are themselves highly authoritarian. Patronage, corruption and nepotism are the core characteristics of Iraqi politics today. The Maliki government increasingly manipulates these processes to its advantage. The result is a consistent underpinning of the ability of competing parties to wield any meaningful political influence.

Iraq's National Association for the Defense of Human Rights has published a series of directives issued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service which are designed to curb freedom of expression in Iraq. Despite knowledge of these directives, no other agency in the Maliki government has condemned them, including the Ministry of Human Rights. The memo by the Association below is yet another indicator of the ongoing efforts to curtail what citizens in any democracy have come to assume is a basic constitutional right, namely freedom of expression.

الجمعية الوطنية للدفاع عن حقوق الانسان في العراق

National Association for the Defense

of Human Rights in Iraq

Freedom of Expression is Indispensable

for Building Democracy
A number of news agencies, websites and Iraqi newspapers have published a document issued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service (Directive No. 3061, dated 20 February 2012) that requested pursuing activities organized by youths to commemorate the first anniversary of protest demonstrations that took place in Baghdad on 25th February 2011.

The Intelligence Service directives issued the following orders:

1 – To follow-up movements.

2 – To inform officials about these movements.
3 – To record names.

4 – The purpose is to pursue these people by the relevant authorities.
5 – To take intensified security measures and provide precautionary arrangements in accordance with the law.

These directives have caused deep concern among all those who uphold democracy and the right to exercise the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, including the freedom of expression in accordance with Article 38 of the Constitution which stipulates that “the state guarantees, without prejudice to public order and morality, 1- the freedom of expression of opinion by all means .. 2 - (....) 3 - Freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration.”

These directives, issued by a government body, are therefore not only an administrative violation but rather constitute several irregularities. First; it is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Second; it is a harmful measure directed against democracy which is the basis of the political process. Third; it is a violation of human rights that guarantee the freedom of expression in accordance with the law.

Our Association has been following up this issue since the publication of these Intelligence Service directives. It has come to the conclusion that the relevant authorities that issued these directives have not denied it. We have also checked the website of the Ministry of Human Rights but could not find any comment, statement or clarification about this blatant violation. The Ministry should have condemned this violation and demanded that the relevant authorities rescind it and abide by the principles of human rights and the section on freedoms in the Constitution.

While considering these directives of the Intelligence Service to be a grave violation of the Constitution and the right to demonstrate, we note that the demands to be raised by youth belonging to the Iraqi Communist Party in the demonstration, as referred to in these directives, do not violate the laws or the Constitution. As a matter of fact, many officials have publicly given support to these demands, such as: 1 - Providing job opportunities, 2 – Putting an end to political differences. Our Association, which defends the rights enshrined in the Constitution and the UN Charter, is therefore astonished that these rights are made a pretext for security measures which are actually of political nature. Those who are in charge of the executive bodies were presumably themselves victims of human rights violations, and if this is so, how can they relish the practice of violations that are prohibited constitutionally after the fall of the dictatorial regime?!

Our Association calls upon those who issued the above-mentioned directives to announce publicly that they are abolished, as well as apologizing for issuing them. We also call upon all the authorities that implement laws to undertake a systematic study of the Constitution and abide professionally by the rights of Iraqi citizens as stipulated by the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

National Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Iraq

Baghdad - 28 February 2012

العنوان: شارع السعدون ــ عمارة مكية ــ ط3 ــ قرب المسرح الوطني