The New York-Based Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government KRG to release photojournalist Qaraman Shukri sentenced to 7 years in prison, drop the charges against him, and stop imposing harsh prison sentences on members of the press, a statement said on June 28th.
“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq are making an appalling habit of sentencing journalists to prison without any regard for due process and for the rights and freedoms they claim to defend,” said Ignacio Miguel Delgado, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa MENA representative.
The wave of arrests, long pre-trial detention and flawed trials of journalist and civil society activists crirical of the KRG has sparked wide protests by local and international organizations and individuals.
On June 20th, Erbil’s Court of Appeals upheld the six-year prison sentences of freelance journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, and three civic activists Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Essa and Shivan Sa'id also for allegedly violating national security laws.
“Appalled by today’s decision of the Erbil Court of Appeal that confirmed the 6-year prison sentence for the 5 journalists and activists already convicted in May despite serious procedural flaws and allegations of mistreatment identified by the UN,” tweeted Martin Huth, EU ambassador to Iraq.
Separately, on June 20th, Duhok court sentenced detained freelance journalist Omed Baroshky to one year in prison on two counts of violating Article 2 of the Law on Misuse of Communication Devices for improper use of his media devices.
The Kurdish security forces Asayish affiliated with Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan KDP arrested Shukri, a freelance photojournalist who has contributed to the news website Rojnews and the broadcaster Sterk TV, close to Kurdistan Workers Party PKK, on January 27, the statement by CPJ said.
KRG’s international advocacy coordinator Dindar Zebari, in response to CPJ in February, accused Shukri of violating Article 156 of the Iraqi penal code, a clause banning acts intended to violate the country’s unity, independence, or security; violations can be punished by life in prison.
On June 24, Shukri told his mother during a prison visit that he had been sentenced to seven years in prison during a closed trial without a lawyer present, according to news reports and the journalist’s brother, Zeravan Shukri, the statement by CPJ said.
Shukri did not say when the trial took place or what laws he was convicted of violating, according to those sources. The journalist’s brother said the family is planning to send a lawyer to Zirka Prison, where Shukri is detained in the northwestern city of Duhok, to determine whether they can appeal the verdict.
In reply to a report by US department of state about human rights in Iraq in 2020, Zebari tweeted, "Arbitrary detention is alien to the practices of KRG. The law-enforcement agencies are legally committed to obtain & present warrants. The courts are independent, & the competent judges are able to distinguish between cases related to journalism & actions that damage public good."
The report released on June 2021 by bureau of democracy refers to serious restrictions all over Iraq including Kurdistan region on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence against journalists, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly.
A section about arbitrary arrest says KRG security forces detained at least 50 protesters, activists, and journalists in late August in the towns of Zakho and Duhok. Many observers called the detentions arbitrary, either because persons were detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly, or because authorities ignored their right under law to be brought before a judge within 24 hours.
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.
Brought before Erbil Criminal Court on February 15 and convited in the following day, the freelance journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Mohammed Zebari, and civil society activists Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Essa and Shivan Sa'id, and tens in prison are victims of a wave of arrests carried out by the (KRG) since October in response to a series of major protests against delay in salaries of state employees, KRG handling of the economic crisis resulting from disputes with Baghdad over oil production, export and corruption, and reached its peak under the Covid-19 pandemic.