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Iraq
26.02.21
Urgent Interventions

Iraq: Sentencing of journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Ayaz Karam Bruji and Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

    IRQ 001 / 0221 / OBS 026
    Sentencing /
    Arbitrary detention /
    Judicial harassment /
    Ill-treatment
    Iraq
    February 26, 2021


    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Iraq.

    Description of the situation:

    The Observatory has been informed by the Gulf Centre of Human Rights (GCHR) about the sentencing of freelance journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Ayaz Karam Bruji and Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari as reprisals for their social media coverage of the wave of protests that have been held in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since August 2020[1].

    On February 16, 2021, the Second Criminal Court of Erbil sentenced Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari to six years of imprisonment for “destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region” (Article 1 of Law 21/2003 of the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region and Articles 47 and 48 of the Iraqi Penal Code) in relation with their conversations on social media and a discussion group they created on Facebook, in which they criticised the local government. The Second Criminal Court further imposed them a period of five years of police surveillance upon completion of their sentences and ordered the confiscation of their personal mobile phones, laptops and cameras. Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari are currently being detained in the General Directorate of the Kurdish Internal Security Forces (Asayish) prison in Erbil. They have appealed the decision before the Kurdistan Court of Cassation.

    On February 10, 2021, six days before the trial, Mr. Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, accused Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari in a press conference of “not being journalists or human rights activists but a group of saboteurs involved in espionage and intelligence with foreign countries whose aim is to hit the security and stability of the Kurdistan region, bombing government institutions and diplomatic headquarters, kidnapping and assassinating foreigners in the region under the cover and dress of the press”.

    The Observatory recalls that Messrs. Sherwani and Bruji were arbitrarily arrested by the Kurdish Internal Security Forces on October 7, 2020 in Erbil and in Dohuk, respectively, and Mr. Zebari on October 22, 2020 in Akre. They were subsequently brought to the General Directorate of the Kurdish Internal Security Forces (Asayish) prison in Erbil, where according to their lawyers, they were allegedly subjected to acts of ill-treatment and intimidation and denied access to their lawyers during the interrogations.

    The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing of Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari and expresses its utmost concern over the alleged acts of ill-treatment and intimidation perpetrated against them while in detention.

    The Observatory further expresses its concern over the continuous and increasing attacks against the rights to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including the document issued in December 2020 by the Minister of Culture and Youth of the Kurdistan Regional Government warning that severe legal action would be taken against any Kurdish media outlets broadcasting material that “incites violence or sabotage or that disturbs social cohesion”.

    The Observatory urges the Iraqi authorities and the authorities of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them and all human rights defenders and journalists. The Observatory further calls for a thorough, prompt, transparent and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of acts of ill-treatment.

    Actions requested:

    Please write to the authorities of Iraq asking them to:

    i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari as well as that of all other human rights defenders in Iraq;

    ii. Repeal the guilty verdict and release Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari immediately and unconditionally as their detention is arbitrary since it only seems to aim at punishing them for their human rights activities;

    iii. Carry out a swift, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into allegations of ill-treatment against Messrs. Sherwani, Bruji and Zebari in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

    Addresses:

    • President of the Republic of Iraq, Mr. Barham Salih, Twitter: @BarhamSalih
    • Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Twitter: @MAKadhimi
    • Minister of Interior of Iraq, Mr. Othman Al-Ghanmi, Twitter: @AlghanmiOthman
    • Minister of Foreign affairs of Iraq, Mr. Fuad Hussein, Twitter: @Fuad_Hussein1
    • Mr. Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Twitter: @Kurdistan, @masrour_barzani
    • Minister Plenipotentiary Mr. Abbas Kadhom Obaid Al-Fatlawi, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: iraq.unog@mofa.gov.iq
    • Dr. Aqeel Al-MoussawiIraqi, Head of the High Commission for Human Rights, Email: info@Ihchr.iq

    Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Iraq in your respective countries.

    ***

    Paris-Geneva, February 26, 2021

    Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

    To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

    • Tel OMCT: +41 (0) 22 809 49 39
    • Tel FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18

    [1] Since mid- August 2020, a wave of protests erupted in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to denounce deteriorating living conditions, unpaid salaries of employees for several months by the regional government, the continued financial crisis and disputes with the Baghdad government, and rampant corruption.

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