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Iraqi Kurdistan Sentenced 5 Journalists and Activists to 6 Years in Prison

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Erbil court sentenced five journalists and civil activists from Erbil and Duhok for charges of “spying and attempts of coup d’eta and disorder, attorney said in a press conference on Tuesday.

The suspects, jailed since October 2020 following protests asking for delayed salaries and better living conditions, attended Erbil court in a hearing session on Monday. They were charged guilty in the second session on Tuesday.

The convicted are Sherwan Sherwani, Gwhdar Mohammed, Ayaz karim, Shivan Sa’id and hariwan Essa.  

Bashdar Hassan, lawyer of Sherwan Sherwani case, said in a press conference “court has not provided any credible proof and none of them confessed he was guilty for spying and coup.”

“What they have is only private chat in facebook and chat groups of journalists and activists. This verdict now on makes it hard for people to use social media which is very dangerous,” he added.

Hassan said they will go to appeal in 30 days.

Court verdict was based on interrogation by Kurdistan region Asayish, security, who was in charge of questioning the detainees.

The conviction was based on bill number 21 approved by parliament of Kurdistan, Iraq, in 2003 which revoked item 156 of Iraq penal code stating that “any one purposefully in any means involved in an action that harms security, stability and sovereignty Iraqi Kurdistan region’s institutions and causes damage will face life imprisonment or short term imprisonment.”

Journalists, civil society activists and lawmakers condemned the conviction as a restraint of freedom of press and expression.

Shayan Askari, member of Iraqi Kurdistan parliament attended the court session. “Usually reporters and activists have private chat groups to share information so never chat between two two people is a prrof for six-year prison sentence,” she said in the press conference in front of Erbil court on Tuesday.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s region government KRG Prime minister Masrour Barzani said in a press conference last week that “the detainees are neither journalists nor activists as journalists should separate themselves from those who put journalist outfit and spy for other countries.”

“Some of them were involved in sabotage and were armed. They tried to kill and abduct people and bomb buildings,” he added.

Independent commission for human rights in Kurdistan region recorded arrest of 300 people from August to October 2020 for “organization of protests and disorder mainly in Duhok northern province. More than 50 are still in prison.   

MPs blame the KRG for restraints on journalists and civil society activists.

“There is no one arrested possessing weapon, no one confessed the charges and no witnesses attended the court session, there is no even one bullet so where is the proof to convict these 5 people? I think this is pre arranged,” MP Ali Hama Saleh said in the press conference in support of the convicted.

Kurdish MPs said they will raise a report in this regard to presidency of Kurdistan parliament.

The civil society activists question the legal bases of detention and conviction. “We knew there is intervention but we did not imagine to dela with them in such a merciless way,” Niyaz Abdullah, a civil society activist said.

“They were allowed only one time to meet their families. How they can be detained and interrogated and have no right to have a lawyer. This was not fair. Even their lawyers were not allowed to read their files,” she added.

The KRG accused Sherwani of spying immediately following his capture. Dindar Zebari, the KRG’s Coordinator for International Advocacy,  said that Sherwani “has received payments from foreign sides to disturb security of Kurdistan region.