Freedom of Expression Under Attack in KRI Government Court
Journalists and activists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Ayaz Karam, Shvan Saeed Omar and Hariwan Issa, known as the “Badinan journalists”, were arrested last autumn as part of a crackdown by security forces on protests in Duhok Province, and the journalists who were reporting on the protests and issues of government corruption. On February 16, 2021 the five Badinan journalists were sentenced to six years under Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003, for carrying out anti-national security activities, working as spies and giving the information from inside the KRI to other countries.
A day after World Press Freedom Day on May 4, Erbil’s Appeal Court announced its final decision upholding the sentences against the Badinan journalists. The Appeal Court in Erbil consists of five judges, two of them whom rejected the sentences, which may indicate that the sentences are politically motivated. This has caused great dissatisfaction and expression of concern from lawmakers, journalists, politicians, activists, and writers. They describe it as a dark day and dangerous development in using the court to make political decisions in KRI.
According to those who attended the initial trial, the court did not present clear evidence to prove they were spies or terrorists. This was considered a great injustice and an attack on journalists and freedom of expression. Prior to the trial, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani had claimed the detainees were “spies” and saboteurs plotting terror attacks against foreign missions, and abductions and assassinations. The statement of the prime minister was a significant interference in the court proceedings. Metro Center and the EU delegation have also released a statement denouncing the decision of the Appeal Court.
All five defendants denied the charges and strongly disputed the truth of statements the prosecution characterized as confessions, saying that those documents contained things they were never said or were obtained through coercion.
The “Protect Iraqi HRDs, NOW!” campaign denounces the decision of the Appeal Court and seeks the following action to remedy this violation of rights:
- President Barzani should grant the Badinan journalists immediate amnesty and announce his commitment to freedom of the press and expression in the KRI.
- All foreign embassies in the KRI that had contact with the Badinan journalists should reach out to the KRI government to bring the full evidence that there were not any sensitive informations shared with them and criticize the decision of the Appeal Court and encourage freedom of the press and expression in the KRI.