Iraqi-US Anti-Corruption Activist Jailed For Defamation

Iraqi-US Anti-Corruption Activist Jailed For Defamation

An Iraqi court has sentenced an Iraqi-US anti-corruption activist from Muthana to six years in jail for defamation of state institutions, an NGO said on Friday.

Over the past two years, Bassem Khashan had tracked down 350 cases of corruption by local officials in the southern province of Muthana and alerted authorities, said Majid Abu Kalal of the Dhar NGO.

Khashan provided what he said was proof and won several cases, including one against the former director general of the health ministry in the province, Abu Kalal said.

But on Wednesday a court in Muthana accused him of defaming the commission of public integrity and the provincial council after he criticized what he called their lack of effort in fighting graft.

"He was sentenced on Wednesday to two jail terms of three years each after writing on Facebook that these two bodies were "slowly cooking", Abu Kalal said.

Khashan can appeal.

The expression "slowly cooking" initially baffled the court, which asked a linguistics expert from Muthana University to explain it.

The expert deemed it an insult that meant the commission and council had done nothing to stop corruption.

That explanation served as the basis of the court convicting Khashan of defamation, Abu Kalal said.

Khashan, who heads the group Ayoun al-Qanoun ("Eyes on the Law" in Arabic), mocked the verdict in a sarcastic Facebook post "thanking" the head of the commission of public integrity.

"Thanks to Hassan al-Yassiri and his commission for granting immunity to corrupt people who have stolen state monies and for requesting my imprisonment and a fine for defaming him," he said.

He also "thanked" Muthana University and its linguistics expert.

The verdict sparked uproar, with hundreds of people protesting in support of Khashan on Friday in Samawa, Muthana's provincial capital, and online.

Protesters chanted: "Honest people go to jail while the corrupt ones live in the Green Zone" in Baghdad where Iraq's main institutions are based.

One social network user, Anas al-Falluji, wrote: "Bassem... who helped return billions of stolen dinars to state coffers has been rewarded by being jailed for six years."

The head of the Muthana bar association, Saleh Absawi, told AFP that lawyers were mobilizing to defend Khashan in his appeal.

A team of 40 lawyers is joining forces with 30 civil society organizations to represent him, he added.

Iraq is the tenth most corrupt country in the world, [of 195 countries] according to international rankings.