Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) is dedicated to bringing together Iraqi and international civil societies through concrete actions to build together another Iraq, with peace and Human Rights for all.

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Statement: “Protect Iraqi Human Rights Defenders NOW!”

A joint statement of the ICSSI and the newly launched campaign “Protect Iraqi HRDs NOW!“ on the sentences imposed on the human rights defenders and journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan

Boston, Roma, Baghdad

February 25, 2021

The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative [ICSSI] and the campaign “Protect Iraqi HRDs NOW!” denounce the unfair trial that imposed six-year prison sentences on Iraqi Kurdish human rights defenders and journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari and Ayaz Karam, and activists Hariwan Issa and Shvan Saeed. The five men should be immediately released and all charges against them dropped.

We are deeply concerned that the two-day trial by the Erbil Criminal Court, 15-16 February, that led to the conviction of these five men for “plotting to destabilize the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region” represents an alarming escalation of attacks on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and on the HRDs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Lawyers for the accused and others who attended the two-day trial have reported many troubling irregularities in the legal proceedings, including:

  • The defendants were not informed of the charges against them prior to the trial.
  • Lack of presentation of sufficient, credible evidence given the highly serious nature of the alleged crimes.
  • Use of altered testimony and “confessions” that the accused deny making in order to obtain a guilty verdict.
  • Allegations by the accused that they were tortured while in detention prior to the trial. Sherwani alleges he was tortured into providing the password to his laptop.
  • Allegations by the accused that members of the security forces threatened to injure their families, including threats to rape Sherwani’s wife.
  • The judges considered the case for less than nine hours and deliberated for only fifteen minutes before issuing a verdict and a sentence, an inordinately brief duration for a trial involving matters of national security.
  • Prejudicial statements made by the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani who asserted in advance of the trial that journalists and activists were “spies” and “saboteurs” working for other countries.
  • Possible “political motivation” in bringing the case, since the journalists and activists were critical of wide-scale corruption in the Kurdistan region.

These irregularities violate the obligations that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has to ensure legal proceedings that are fully transparent, impartial, and comply with international standards for fair trials, obligations established by the Constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the Iraqi Federal Constitution, and the international human rights treaties the KRG and Iraq have joined.

The ICSSI and the campaign “Protect Iraqi HRDs NOW!” recognize that HRDs in Iraqi Kurdistan and elsewhere in Iraq face huge risks for their purely nonviolent, human rights activities. The KRG and the Iraqi government should stop criminalizing HRDs and refrain from using legal proceedings to suppress activities that are protected by Iraq’s two constitutions and the international human rights treaties the KRG and Iraq have joined. We call on all concerned formal bodies, governments, international NGOs and CSOs, and individuals everywhere to monitor developments in this case and to support the goals and demands of the ICSSI and the campaign.

Knowing that timely international pressure has the greatest potential for ensuring a fair and just outcome for these five HRDs, we jointly seek the commitment of the following:

The Office of Human Rights in the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq [UNAMI]

The Delegation of the European Union to Iraq

International human rights organizations

International organizations defending freedom of the press

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

The ICSSI is an international solidarity platform dedicated to bringing together Iraqi and international civil societies through concrete actions to further peace and human rights for all in Iraq. The newly launched campaign, “Protect Iraqi HRDs NOW!“ aims to prevent violations of Iraqis’ human rights, protect those who are threatened, and ensure accountability for any violations that HRDs experience.

For more information on this statement, the ICSSI and the campaign:

ICSSI web site: https://www.iraqicivilsociety.org

ICSSI Secretariat phone number: +39 3518502370

Campaign email: protect.hrd@protonmail.com