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Iraqi Kurd journalists convicted over report

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, May 2 (Reuters) An Iraqi Kurdish court today handed two journalists six-month suspended sentences for defamation after their newspaper said a regional governor ordered two phone company workers fired for cutting his home line.

Hawlati weekly's then editor-in-chief, Asus Hardi, and editor Twana Osman were also fined 75,000 dinars (50 dollars), prosecutor Jassim Muhammed Baba said by telephone from Sulaimaniya in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan.

The Misdemeanour Court in Sulaimaniya ruled it was the regional communications minister and not the governor who had ordered the sacking of the two women, who were later reinstated but on reduced benefits.

The pair are the latest journalists to be punished on charges of defaming Kurdish political leaders, a series of cases that has stirred national and international criticism.

Osman also reports from Sulaimaniya for Reuters.

His lawyer, Hawre Yasin, said he would appeal: ''The reality is that it is true that the two women employees were fired,'' Yasin said. ''That means there should have been no trial.'' Iraqi Kurdistan, which broke with Saddam Hussein's rule from Baghdad with US help in 1991, prides itself on having a better human rights record than the rest of Iraq. But it has come under fire recently over its record on press freedom.

In December, a court jailed Kurdish writer Kamal Karim, an Austrian citizen, for 30 years for an article on a Web site accusing Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani of corruption and abuse of power.

The sentence was reduced in March to 18 months and he was then pardoned and freed in April.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that at his original trial, Karim was given only five minutes to confer with his lawyer. After the trial and the original sentence, European Union president Austria urged his release.

Also in March, security forces working for the party of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and rival of Barzani, arrested a high school teacher and part-time writer, Hawez Hawezi, for a newspaper article he wrote on corruption.

He was freed after three days but arrested again on Sunday after complaining publicly about his previous treatment.

Reuters SI GC2145

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