SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) – A freelance journalist was released from prison in northern Iraq after being pardoned for violating a public decency law by writing a story about homosexuality, the writer and officials said Wednesday.
Adel Hussein said he was pardoned on Sunday by Massoud Barzani, the president of the self-ruled Kurdish region in the country’s north.
Hussein, a medical doctor, was sentenced Nov. 24 to six months in prison and ordered to pay $106 fine over an article he wrote about the physical effects of homosexuality.
“I am a doctor and a specialist as well as a journalist. I was not supposed to be put in prison. It was too much to endure,” Hussein told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Hussein was serving his sentence at Mahata prison in Irbil, about 220 miles (350 kilometers) north of Baghdad. He was among 121 people pardoned by the president in advance of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, according to Barzani’s Web site. The holiday is one of Islam’s most important ones.
“We are relieved that President Barzani intervened to right this injustice,” Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a written statement. “We call on the authorities to ensure that the new legislation is enforced and that Adel Hussein is the last journalist to be sent to prison in Iraqi Kurdistan because of his work.”
The case centers on an April 2007 article Hussein wrote for the independent weekly Hawlati. Hussein’s attorney, Luqman Malazadah, said the sentence handed down by the Kurdish court was based on an outdated 1969 Iraqi penal code.
A new law that took effect in October does not recognize a violation of “public custom,” CPJ said. Hussein, who is married with two children, said he wrote the article to educate readers, not advocate homosexuality. “The Kurdish society of the Middle East lacks enough education about sex and I intended to offer that education,” he said. “The Kurdish society is still a closed one and cannot accept open discussions of such subjects, and that is why I was arrested.”
Hussein has published three books about sex, including “Sex of 200 People” that was published in 2005. But after spending thirteen days in prison, Hussein said he will not approach the subject again. “I won’t write about sex again,” he said. “It is very painful for me to be arrested for writing about a scientific subject.”
Irbil’s public prosecutor also has filed a lawsuit against Hussein, the magazine’s former chief editor Adnan Osman, and the publisher, Tareq Fateh, according to a previous report by Reporters Without Borders.
Kamal Raouf, an editor with Hawlati, condemned Hussein’s sentence and vowed to keep publishing controversial articles.
“As an editor, I will continue publishing (reports on) all kinds of subjects,” he said. “We do not have red lines.”