Iraqi Kurdistan court upholds journalists' jail sentences

Outrage after Iraqi Kurdistan court upholds jail sentences for journalists, activists
2 min read
28 June, 2021
Journalists Ayaz Karam, Sherwan Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, and activists Hariwan Issa and Shvan Saeed were sentenced in February to six years in prison.
An Erbil appeal court has upheld the jail sentences of three journalists and two activists charged with endangering national security [Getty]

An Iraqi Kurdistan court's decision to uphold the sentences of five activists and journalists on Sunday has been condemned by diplomats as a breach of press freedom.

Journalists Ayaz Karam, Sherwan Sherwani, and Guhdar Zebari, and activists Hariwan Issa and Shvan Saeed were sentenced in February to six years in prison, charged with endangering the safety and sovereignty of the country.

The five covered or took part in last year's anti-government protests and were prosecuted by Kurdish authorities using the Iraqi penal code.

The appeal court first upheld the decision at the end of April. Although human rights organisations condemned the first dismissal of the appeal, the response from the diplomatic community was muted.

A rejection of the second appeal was met with loud condemnations by ambassadors and embassies.

European Union Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth said he was "appalled" by the court's decision to uphold the sentences, "despite serious procedural flaws and allegations of mistreatment identified by the UN".

Disappointed with yesterday's Appeals Court decision upholding the sentencing of Sherwan Sherwani, Shvan Saeed, Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Issa, and Guhdar Zebari. The unhindered work of journalists is key to an open and informed society.#JournalismIsNotACrime

— Ashley Durec 🇨🇦 (@AshleyDurec) June 28, 2021

The lawyer for the defendants told the press that earlier charges of spying for the US and German consulates in Erbil had been removed from ruling paperwork.

The Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) tightening grip on press freedoms has been condemned by human rights organisations. Earlier this month, Amnesty International said it heard accounts of forced confessions and torture of detainees at the hands of Iraqi Kurdistan security forces. 

Iraqi Kurdistan has asked for international assistance "to support legal and judicial reform in Kurdistan", Dindar Zebari, the government's international advocacy coordinator said in a statement sent to The New Arab earlier this month.