Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bringing the free press to Iraq

In America, the President is in charge of squelching unpleasant stories, but in Iraq, it's against the law to criticize the government:
When I asked Karwan Abdula, editor of Caravan literary magazine (and a former communist) if government funding shaped his mag's editorial ethos, he said no, of course not. But then, he added, we would never think of publishing anything critical of Kurdistan's two major parties.

I ran this past the media bigwig in Erbil, Minister of Culture Sami Shorish, and he explained that while there are no laws restricting free speech, there is one important law restricting speech that isn't free and never should be. "We provide freedom to media, provided the media doesn't act in a slanderous way."

And would criticizing the ruling parties entail slander? I asked Abdula.

Yes, he said.
Lovely. It's bizarro democracy. Exactly like democracy, only everything that isn't supposed to happen (proxy voting, censorship) does.

How does that sound familiar?

Article 49. Every citizen of the USSR has the right to submit proposals to state bodies and public organisations for improving their activity, and to criticise shortcomings in their work.

Officials are obliged, within established time-limits, to examine citizens' proposals and requests, to reply to them, and to take appropriate action.

Persecution for criticism is prohibited. Persons guilty of such persecution shall be called to account.

Article 50. In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations.

Exercise of these political freedoms is ensured by putting public buildings, streets and squares at the disposal of the working people and their organisations, by broad dissemination of information, and by the opportunity to use the press, television, and radio.

Article 51. In accordance with the aims of building communism, citizens of the USSR have the right to associate in public organisations that promote their political activity and initiative and satisfaction of their various interests.

Public organisations are guaranteed conditions for successfully performing the functions defined in their rules.

Article 52. Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda. Incitement of hostility or hatred on religious grounds is prohibited.

In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.

Article 54. Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed inviolability of the person. No one may be arrested except by a court decision or on the warrant of a procurator.

Article 55. Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed inviolability of the home. No one may, without lawful grounds, enter a home against the will of those residing in it.

Article 56. The privacy of citizens, and of their correspondence, telephone conversations, and telegraphic communications is protected by law.
Obviously I'm not thinking of the Soviet Union, which at least pretended to respect basic rights.