Libel Charges and Kurdish Mediation
CPT Iraq Reflection: Kurdish Mediation
By Cliff Kindy, 17 January, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, three CPTers joined five independent journalists in a two-hour trip to Halubcha. At ten o’clock a young journalist, Nasir, would face trial. He had been charged with libelling the Peshmerga (Kurdish military) when he wrote that all Peshmerga are full of corruption. After the charges were filed, men dressed in Asaish security uniforms abducted him, beat him and ordered him to never write about the Peshmerga again. CPT attended the trial to make it clear that the international public was concerned about this issue.
Supporters, including CPT, gathered in the investigating attorney’s office. There they learned the judge had delayed the trial, ostensibly because his son had injured his hand. Some speculated he feared the international publicity with CPTers present.
The supporters returned to a hall where negotiations went on without CPT involvement because of language. But soon CPT was engaged to join a delegation heading to the Cultural Center. There the head of the Peshmerga offered a compromise. The charges would be dropped against Nasir in exchange for his retraction of the earlier statement and promise, in the future, to write only with specific evidence about the Peshmerga
It was an exciting arena as the Cultural Center director and the Peshmerga held forth for a clear apology and Nasir’s supporters gave him lots of encouragement to concede that this issue would not make him famous. The 18 supporters included other independent journalists who had faced similar difficulties in writing critical pieces, his wife, a sister, CPT and other local supporters.
Finally a sheet of paper appeared and Nasir started to write. It was a struggle as he crafted his words to say enough and yet not compromise his convictions. Supporters gathered at his side to keep encouraging him. His lawyer eventually wrote more on the reverse side of the sheet. Nasir crossed out, re-wrote and finally got paper with a carbon film to produce a second copy of the final draft.
Falal leaned over to a CPTer and said, “We reached agreement.” The discussion had gone on constantly, seemingly as a cover for Nasir to work unimpeded. Journalists made it clear to CPT that their international presence was key to the effort. “We would not have reached this middle ground without your presence pushing the Peshmerga spokesperson.”
The Peshmerga officer summed up his perspective as he said, “We support freedom of speech. We accept Nasir’s apology.” Later CPT heard there was a promise that Nasir would not experience another abduction. Supporters had planned to take him back to Suly with them to keep him safe because he feared another threat on his life.
So, with creative mediation work from two parties and a bit of “support” from CPT, a deal was reached. Nasir does not go to trial or jail, the Peshmerga polishes its image, and another round of Kurdish people building a new future passes into the pages of history.