The Guardian, Thursday 12 November 2009
"We take our freedom for granted. But imagine not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in," Tony Blair told the House of Commons in March 2003, urging MPs to support the invasion of Iraq. They were fine words. But they ring hollow more than six years after a war held in the name of democracy led to elections and a new constitution, which promised to guarantee "freedom of expression using all means".
This week a Iraqi court ordered the Guardian to pay 100m dinar (£52,000) for supposedly defaming the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The ruling should outrage anyone who cares about free speech and fair reporting. Journalists in Iraq find their task difficult and dangerous enough without the government adding its own challenge by suing reporters through the country's court system. The article that caused offence would not have raised an eyebrow in an established democracy. But either Mr al-Maliki himself, or someone who believed he was acting in his interest, took exception to a piece of reporting by the Guardian's correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, which described fears inside Iraq that the prime minister was ruling in an increasingly autocratic manner....."