Iraqi police accompanied by U.S. troops raided the offices of Al-Mustaqila newspaper, which means The Independent in Arabic. Neighbors said troops broke down the front door, ransacked the office and detained the newspaper’s manager, Abdul Sattar Shalan.
According to U.S. occupation authorities, the paper published an article 10 days ago titled, “Death to all spies and those who cooperate with the U.S.; killing them is religious duty.” The headline closely echoed recent threats made by clandestine armed groups against U.S. forces and their Iraqi collaborators.
“The Coalitional Provisional Authority supports and encourages the development of a free and responsible Iraqi press,” the occupation agency said in a statement today. But it said Al-Mustaqila “has chosen to threaten the basic human rights of Iraqi citizens” and published a “clearly inciteful article,” putting it in violation of occupation press rules.
The U.S. authority has banned all Iraqi media from publishing or airing material it views as inciting political, religious or ethnic violence or promoting attacks on U.S. forces here. It has already shut down one Baghdad radio station and one Shiite Muslim newspaper in Najaf on these grounds.
In a report today, the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders criticized the occupation press rules, saying U.S. authorities should ease their restrictions on the Iraqi media and develop more “liberal and democratic” regulations.
The Iraqi Governing Council, appointed earlier this month by U.S. officials, issued a statement today supporting the shutdown of Al-Mustaqila. It said the article in question was “inconsistent with all laws, religious principles and human rights,” and that the right to press dissent should not extend to “calling for the shedding of others’ blood.”
Today, the two-story yellow building that housed Al-Mustaqila was locked and empty, and no copies of the newspaper could be found at any newsstand in downtown Baghdad. But several neighbors described Monday’s armed raid in detail and said they were surprised because nothing about the newspaper or its staff had appeared out of the ordinary.
“Everything seemed normal. There was nothing suspicious. They reported on what was happening, including the attacks [on U.S. troops] in Fallujah,” said Abdul Mohsin, 40, who manages a printing plant across the street. He said the police and U.S. troops turned the newspaper’s office upside down and took some equipment.
Occupation authorities could not be reached for comment tonight. It was not immediately clear whether the article in question had been a news story or an editorial, and there was no information on the whereabouts of Al-Mustaqila’s manager or whether any charges would be filed against him.
Several Iraqi newspaper journalists said they knew little about Al-Mustaqila but that they did not feel the U.S. authorities were interfering unduly in their own reporting. More than 50 newspapers and magazines have opened in the capital since the government of president Saddam Hussein was deposed.
“Every day the Americans send a representative with their news, and we are free to publish it or not,” said Nadah Shauqat, an editor at Az-Zaman, the best-known Baghdad daily. “We are independent. We publish news and interviews about political groups, but we do not publish propaganda.”
© 2003 The Washington Post Company