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Iraqi Kurdish Parliament Passes Softer Media Law

IRBIL, Iraq (Reuters) -- Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region has passed a modified media law aimed at protecting journalists' rights, abolishing jail terms for offences such as defamation, legislators said.

An earlier version of the law passed by parliament last December carried tough sanctions for journalists including imprisonment, fines of up to 10 million Iraqi dinars ($8,400) and the closure of publications.

After a widespread public outcry, the president of the Kurdistan regional government, Mas'ud Barzani, rejected the law and sent it back to parliament.

The new law excluded jail sentences for journalists carrying out their duties and reduced fines that could be levied.

"Even the item that closed a newspaper was deleted," Qadir Said, a legislator, told Reuters.

The law was passed late on September 22.

Praise For Law

Kurdistan enjoys good security in comparison with other parts of Iraq.

Still, about 60 Kurdish journalists were killed, threatened, attacked or taken to court in the first half of 2008, says the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In the past few years, many other Kurdish journalists have been beaten, jailed, threatened with death or intimidated.

CPJ and Amnesty International have launched campaigns to draw attention to such events and pressured Kurdish authorities to hold those who are threatening journalists to account.

Adnan Mufti, the speaker of Kurdistan's parliament, praised the law, as did a local journalists organization.

"The amendments in the law increase the freedoms and remove the punishments. It meets the demands of journalists," he said.

Iraq, which witnessed significant growth in the media after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists to work.

About 130 journalists and 50 media assistants have been killed in Iraq since 2003, according to the CPJ.