So I tracked down the staff of Hawlati, the only independent newspaper in Kurdistan, to get their take on press freedom in this country so utterly dominated by two powerful political parties. Editor Faisal Khalid says that only Hawlati will tackle stories related to government corruption, of which there is a lot in Kurdistan. In retaliation, Hawlati staff have been threatened and, in a few cases, bribed by the government to become informants.If the Hawlati staff believes an employee's loyalty is wavering, that employee is promptly fired. Recently three Hawlati reporters were jailed for covering corruption stories; all three are out on bail awaiting trial. What makes this legally possible is the absence of Miranda Rights in Kurdistan and a law prohibiting loosely-defined "slander", which editors have told me might include criticism of the major political parties.Incredibly, even the courageous Hawlati staff cows away from certain subjects. "Past the red line," is how Khalid describes them. When I asked what subjects were past the line, he refused to answer, saying only that everyone knows what subjects are absolutely taboo. If government corruption is fair game in this place where government is worshipped, what in the world is off-limits? My cynical Western mind suspects that these subjects are related to sex and religion. More on that later.-- David Axe
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