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Press Watchdog Says Iraq Orders Closure Of 44 Media Outlets

A press freedom group in Iraq says a media commission with close ties to the government has ordered the closure of dozens of news organizations.

Hadi Jallo Merei, the president of the Baghdad-based Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that the country's Communications and Media Commission has issued a list of 44 foreign and domestic media groups that are operating without proper registration.

The Interior Ministry has ordered police to enforce the closure of all companies on the list.

The list includes U.S.-funded Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language radio station operated by the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, a sister station to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Radio Sawa says it does have a license. Deputy Director Salah Nasrawi told AP that he was surprised to see the station on the list but said it could be a bureaucratic error.

The Iraqi media commission has denied the measure is meant as a widespread crackdown against the press.

But press watchdog groups have accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of seeking to muzzle the media in order to consolidate power.

The government has made no official response to the ordered closures.

With reporting by AP and rt.com
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The human rights group Amnesty International has declared detained pro-reform Kazakh theater director Bolat Atabaev a "prisoner of conscience."

In a statement, the London-based rights group called the charges against Atabaev "trumped up," saying he had been detained "solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression."

Atabaev, who was arrested last week, faces charges of "inciting social hatred" in connection with last year's protests by striking oil workers in the western town of Zhanaozen, where police shot dead at least 16 people in mid-December.

The term "prisoner of conscience" refers to people jailed because of their political, religious or other beliefs.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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