The penal committee of (Kurdistan) region cassation court has confirmed the ruling of sentencing five journalists and civil society activists to six years in prison for “undermining national security,” a source of the defense team told KirkukNow on Tuesday.
Three judges out of five voted for Erbil Criminal Court ruling of February 16th for sentencing the three freelance journalists (Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari and Ayaz Karam) and the two civil-society activists (Hariwan Essa & Shivan Sa'id), the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity added.
Brought before a court in the regional capital, Erbil, on February 15, the five convicted three freelance journalists, the two activists (Hariwan Essa & Shivan Sa'id) and tens in prison are victims of a wave of arrests carried out by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) eight months ago in response to a series of major protests against delay in salaries of state employees, KRG handling of the economic crisis resulting from disputes over oil production, export and corruption, and reached its peak under the Covid-19 pandemic.
Team of defense is to held a press conference today in front of the cassation court in Erbil.
Local and international media outlets and organizations, advocates and MPs expressed their grave concern that that press freedom is increasingly under threat in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
In response to today court verdict, Latif Sheikh Mustafa, a judge and legal consultant, said in a comment on Facebook social media platform, “It is a dark day and a threatening turn in abusing court power for political affiliation, a stigma for the reputation of the (Kurdistan) region.”
“The last hope is that Kurdistan region president to keep his words and issue an amnesty as there is no hope for the general committee of cassation court to convert the verdict,” he added.
The suspects, jailed since October 2020 following protests asking for delayed salaries and better living conditions, attended Erbil court in a hearing session on February 15. They were charged guilty in the second session in the following day.
The 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.