“I wasn’t expecting that judgment, I do not deserve that punishment”, these were Nasih Abdul-Rahim’s words as he left the Halabja misdemeanors courtroom. He had thought that the charge for which he was brought to trial did not deserve a penalty; therefore, he refused to hire a lawyer, yet what happened at the court was far beyond what he predicted.
Nasih Abdul-Rahim is well known for more than 10 years as a critic and a freelance journalist, currently he is a health worker in Halabja. In recent years, he laid out his views and criticism via his Facebook account.
June 9, 2021, a new development occurred in Nasih’s life; he was sentenced for six months in prison due to a Facebook post.
Why was Nasih imprisoned?
“The general director has transferred (the health employees) for the sake of the patients; but now they are attacking him. They used to leave their duties at the reception, one out of four used to stay there, the others were going to sleep, therefore the general director transferred them from that critical section.”
Nasih Abdul-Rahim attached this post with a document issued by the Halabja Health Directorate and published it on May 17, 2020.
According to the document, three health employees were moved from Halabja Emergency Hospital to Shahid Fatih health center. The three employees whose names were mentioned in the document considered the disclosure of their identities via Nasih’s Facebook account a defamation, therefore they filed a lawsuit against him.
Nasih had been chosen by the Halabja health director as a member of a follow-up committee to oversee the working hours of health employees.
Halabja health director, Dr. Azad Mustafa told (KirkukNow), “Mr. Nasih went to the hospitals at the formal request of the health directorate, he realized that some of the employees allegedly had 6-night shift working hours in the schedule, yet they worked only five days in the week. Mr. Nasih wrote on Facebook about the punishment these employees received.”
A source close to the three employees mentioned in the post said, “Nasih published the document which is an administrative procedure and it shouldn’t have been disclosed to the public, it even should not be published on the notification board”, hence they considered it a defamation.
The three employees refused to talk about their case to (KirkukNow).
The day of the trial
Nasih Abdul-Rahim who defines himself as a freelance journalist, is at the same time manager of the Halabja blood bank. He was so confident of what he published that he refused to hire a lawyer.
Mariwan Abdul-Rahim, Nasih’s brother told (KirkukNow), “Until the day of the trial arrived, Nasih believed that he was not going to be sentenced, yet the judge sentenced him to six months in jail… he was so frustrated, he said he didn’t deserve that penalty.”
Mariwan accompanied his brother until he entered the courtroom, Nasih was not wearing handcuffs and the police did not escort him.
“Nasih said this sentence is to silence him against corruption”, according to Mariwan, who added, “After the verdict was announced, Nasih did not get angry, but felt disappointed.”
On Sunday, June 13, 2021, Nasih was transferred to Sulaymaniyah Adult Correction Facility.
The Court files
According to a Halabja Misdemeanor court order in January 11, 2021, an investigation file has been opened for Nasih Abdul-Rahim according to two articles in the Misuse of Communication Devices Law.
The court determined may 17, 2021 as the first day of Nasih’s trial, in the attendance of the defendant and the claimants.
The trial proceeded publicly and face to face. The court did not require the presence of witnesses for testimonies as the post was published on the defendant’s personal Facebook account.
According to the court file, Nasih had admitted that he willingly published that post, however he asked for the postponement of the trial until he hires a lawyer and reviews the information.
The court accepted his request, and the trial was postponed to June 2, 2021. During the trial, Nasih claimed innocence; the trial was postponed again until June 9, 2021 at the request of the attorney general. In that session, Nasih was sentenced to six months in prison.
The court’s decision said “the defendant Nasih Abdul-Rahim has published the Halabja Health Directorate’s administrative orders regardless of job etiquettes.”
The court says that the obtained evidence which include claimants’ testimonies, the defendant’s statements and the evidence found on the Facebook account, in addition to the likes and comments the post had received: all these are reliable evidence which convinced the court that the defendant has “committed a crime”.
The court’s final decision was sentencing Nasih Abdul-Rahim to six months of imprisonment, and giving the claimants the right to ask for compensation at a civil court.
Mariwan, Nasih’s brother described the verdict as cruel and said he wondered why the court resorted to such sentence, “The verdict was unfair, it should have been a fine, we don’t know why the jury chose this tough sentence, Nasih did not expect that, therefore he did not hire a lawyer.”
The verdict was unfair, it should have been a fine, we don’t know why the jury chose this tough sentence, Nasih did not expect that, therefore he did not hire a lawyer.
Nasih’s verdict was according to article two of the law No. 6 of the year 2008 concerning the misuse of communication devices in the Kurdistan Region.
The law provides for punishment of six months to five years of imprisonment or a fine of from one to five million Iraqi dinars as punishment for anyone convicted of using communication devices of any kind to threaten, curse, or publish personal conversations or photographs.
Regarding the case, Osman Sheikh Siddiq, a lawyer, told (KirkukNow) “In my opinion, the publishing of the document which referred to the transfer of the employees as a punishment procedure does not count as defamation, moreover, the Halabja Health Directorate itself explained that the disclosure of the document does not harm the directorate.”
legally, publishing an administrative order is not a crime, however the directorate could impose disciplinary measures against this person,
Siddiq added that “the transfer of employees is not a crime, it is an administrative order which is not confidential… it doesn’t fall under individual or family privacy, and publishing the order is not a crime.”
Concerning the fact that Nasih published the document at a time he is himself is an employee at the Halabja Health Directorate, Osman Sheikh Sdiq said, “legally, publishing an administrative order is not a crime, however the directorate could impose disciplinary measures against this person, because it is not his job to publish such documents, yet it doesn’t count as a crime.
Concerning the comments and other interactions to the post on Nasih’s Facebook account, Osman Sheikh Siddiq said, “Nasih had nothing to do with the comments, everyone is responsible for what he posts not the comments and reactions it receives, but we noticed that in this case the comments had their influence and made him get a heavier penalty.”
A health worker or a journalist?
Nasih Abdul-Rahim has often mentioned that he worked as a journalist for more than 10 years, yet he wasn’t a member in the Kurdistan Journalists Syndicate.
(KirkukNow) spoke with the head of Halabja office of the syndicate Sarhang Izzat and the head of the Sulaimanyia office Karwan Anwar, who both said Nasih was not a member in the syndicate. Nevertheless, a journalist is not obliged to join the syndicate in order to be able to practice journalism, according to the articles of Press law in No. 35 of 2007 in the Kurdistan Region.
Both Karwan Anwar and Sarhang Izzat told (KirkukNow) they couldn’t assign a lawyer to defend Nasih, since what he had done “was not related to journalism profession.”
Nasih wrote in Hawlati newspapers’ Opinion column for years and published opinion essays in many other newspapers and websites, moreover, he was a reporter for Xwendni Libral (Liberal Education) newspaper, which was an educational newspaper concerned with youth issues.
Nasih was better known among his community as a journalist and a critic, meanwhile he was known as “a dedicated and successful” health employee.
Dr. Azad Mustafa, Halabja health director applauds Nasih’s work and says, “Nasih is one of Halabja’s devoted health employees and was the head of the Halabja Blood Bank, which is a self-dependent bank that was able to meet Halabja’s needs with the help of all, particularly Mr. Nasih.”
Dr. Azad Mustafa added that “although Nasih worked in the health sector, his criticisms included all fields of life, he was best known as a critic. He performed his duties properly and he is someone who doesn’t turn a blind eye to flaws.”
Appealing against the sentence
Beside that lawsuit, the court files indicated that Nasih had prior criminal records, which were according to article 1/433 of the Penal Law close to the nature of his current “crime”.
The court will review Nasih’s sentence in a session planned for July 9,2021 before a final decision is issued. Nasih’s relatives have submitted an appeal against the sentence to the court.
Nasih’s brother, Mariwan said, “we request that his sentence be reduced to a suspended sentence or a fine, because the previous lawsuit dates back to 2011, and according the law the case is closed after 5 years.”
In 2011, Nasih Abdul-Rahim faced trial on the basis of a complaint filed by the Kurdistan Democratic party over opinions and criticism he had published, and after being convicted his sentence was suspended.
Dr. Azad Mustafa says Halabja directorate of health is doing its best to convince the court to return that employee to his work, because the directorate needs his service and he is one of the devoted employees.
According to information obtained by (KirkukNow), the three health employees who filed a lawsuit against Nasih has no intention to withdraw the lawsuit and plan to ask for compensations.
The lawyer Osman Sheikh Siddiq says the only thing remains, is the couple of lines attached with the document Nasih posted on his Facebook account, “Do these lines involve defamation or not? This should be determined by specialists, whose opinions were not taken in Nasih’s case. And even if it was decided that the post involved defamation, the sentence is very harsh, the court could have imposed a fine on him or a suspended sentence for one year, the current sentence is harsh. He can cancel the sentence if he succeeds in the appeal for cassation.”