London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The British Guardian newspaper reported on 12 November that an Iraqi court had ordered it to pay damages to Iraqi Prime Minister [PM] Nuri al-Maliki for “defamation” after the newspaper published an article by an Iraqi journalist describing PM Al-Maliki as “authoritarian.” However, the Iraqi Government denied having any relationship with the case and emphasized that it was the Iraqi Intelligence Service that had filed the lawsuit. The Guardian reported that an Iraqi court looked into the claim of defamation of the PM, filed by the Iraqi Intelligence Service, and ordered The Guardian to pay Al-Maliki 1 million Iraqi dinars for an article written by an Iraqi journalist that was published in April.
A statement issued by Al-Maliki’s office denied that it had filed a lawsuit saying: “The office of PM Nuri al-Maliki denies filing a lawsuit against the British newspaper, The Guardian.” The statement went on to say: “It was the Iraqi Intelligence Service that filed the lawsuit because the writer of the article cited some remarks that was attributed to three Intelligence Service officers.” The statement reiterated “the importance of respect for freedom of expression in building a democratic system” and emphasized that “the constitution guarantees freedom of the press.” Iraqi Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh affirmed: “The Iraqi PM has nothing to do with the case; the reparations will go to the Intelligence Service.” The article cited unnamed members of the Iraqi Intelligence Service as saying that the prime minister was on the road of ruling Iraq in an authoritarian manner.” Meanwhile, the official spokesperson of the Iraqi Intelligence Service told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The service does not care about the issue of reparations as much as it cares for revealing the truth. The Guardian correspondent did not have any evidence to present to the court that he had talked to the senior officers in the service who told him about the existence of secret intelligence organs associated with the PM.”
The authorized spokesperson added: “The Intelligence Service asked The Guardian to present evidence that its correspondent spoke to these officers. At the time, the newspaper affirmed that there are recordings and documents that prove that its correspondent spoke to the senior officers and it said that this evidence will be presented to the court. However, since no evidence was presented to prove their allegation, the Intelligence Service won the case and thus exposing the lack of credibility of the correspondent who quoted these remarks.” The spokesperson affirmed: “The Intelligence Service will not receive any compensation. It only wishes to prove the truth and that the media outlets should be accurate when quoting sources.” According to the French News Agency, British Foreign Minister David Milliband has said: “I was very concerned to hear reports of today’s court ruling. Freedom of expression is vital in every democracy.” The Guardian said that it would appeal against the ruling and described it as a fresh blow to freedom of the press in Iraq. The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger said: “This is astounding. PM Al-Maliki is trying to construct a new and free Iraq. Freedom means little without free speech and it means even less if a head of the state tries to use the law of libel to condemn any criticism or dissent.”