Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Iraqi court fines British paper

Nouri Maliki, 10 November 2009
Nouri Maliki was appointed prime minister after elections in 2005

An Iraqi court has ordered Britain's Guardian newspaper to pay 100m dinars (£52,000) after ruling that it defamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

The court awarded the damages in connection with an article published in April that described Mr Maliki as increasingly autocratic.

The Guardian's editor said the ruling was a "dismaying development" that threatened the creation of a free Iraq.

The newspaper would "vigorously contest" the verdict, he said.

The article in question was written by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an award-winning staff correspondent.

It quoted three unnamed members of the Iraqi national intelligence service who claimed that Mr Maliki was becoming authoritarian.

The paper said the court had heard evidence from a panel who said Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish pieces that were critical of the prime minister or president - though it appeared to have overlooked the fact that Mr Abdul-Ahad was Iraqi.

"Prime minister Maliki is trying to construct a new, free Iraq," said Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

"Freedom means little without free speech - and means even less if a head of state tries to use the law of libel to punish criticism or dissent."

The Guardian also quoted British Foreign Secretary David Miliband as saying he was "very concerned" by the ruling.

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