September 30, 2006

The Difference Between Prior Restraint and the Sedition Act

by PG

If anyone is having trouble distinguishing between the two, the pre- and post-war situation in Iraq provides a helpful illustration.

Under Mr. Hussein, reporters and editors were licensed and carefully watched. Even typewriters had to be registered with the government. During that time, some reporters got by on the conviction that their articles, about the government’s glorious new water projects or certain victory in the war with Iran, were at least patriotic.
Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein’s penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year.
Currently, three journalists for a small newspaper in southeastern Iraq are being tried here for articles last year that accused a provincial governor, local judges and police officials of corruption. The journalists are accused of violating Paragraph 226 of the penal code, which makes anyone who “publicly insults” the government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison.
On Sept. 7, the police sealed the offices of Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, for what the government said was inflammatory reporting. And the Committee to Protect Journalists says that at least three Iraqi journalists have served time in prison for writing articles deemed criminally offensive.
Licensing is the Miltonic bugbear that keeps prior restraint particularly disfavored in the Anglo American legal tradition, but I suspect some Iraqi journalists are thinking that at least then they knew whether they'd be punished for their writing.

September 30, 2006 06:50 PM | TrackBack
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