Kurdistan Regional Government Uses Court to Restrain Freedom of Expression

The Court of Cassation's decision comes as a shock to the family members of the Badinan prisoners and as well as to the Iraqi Kurdistan's independent journalists and civil society.
Rugesh khan and her family with CPT IK team members. Rugesh is wearing a black dress with floral design, as well as a grey hijab. Two children are wearing yellow shirts and black shorts, one child is wearing a black shirt, and one child is wearing a blue dress. One person is wearing a grey dress shirt. One CPTer is wearing a blue, plaid dress shirt and jeans and a red CPT hat. Another CPTer is wearing a red, plaid dress shirt and jeans and a red CPT hat, and another CPTer is wearing a red CPT vest and black
CPT-IK team visited the family of Sherwan Sherwani. Rugesh khan, Sherwan's wife, told CPT, "The last time I spoke with Sherwan was on 13 March. In only two minutes that Asaish allowed Sherwan to speak, he told me to not believe the lies that they are spreading about him. Because he commented on his situation he has not been allowed to make calls for more than a month and a half."

Christian Peacemaker Teams – Iraqi Kurdistan condemns the Erbil appeal court’s ruling to uphold the six-year prison terms for Badinan journalists and activists.

On May 6, the Court of Cassation in Erbil ruled to support the unjust sentencing of three independent journalists and two civil rights activists from Badinan in Iraqi Kurdistan on fabricated criminal charges of “espionage and conspiracy to endanger national security.” Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Eyaz Karam, Shivan Saeed, and Hariwan Essa were sentenced to six years in prison for speaking to consulates about the state of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, criticizing corruption in political parties, and participating in nonviolent protests.

“It is a tragic day in the history of the Kurdistan judiciary,” said Bashdar Hassan, defense lawyer of the Badinan journalists and activists. “This decision is a political one. People won’t be able to believe in the courts anymore.” 

Three of the five judges of the Court of Cassation in Erbil are members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controls the Badinan region in Iraqi Kurdistan. In their decisions, both the Criminal Court and the Court of Cassation mirrored the KDP leader and Iraqi Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s public condemnation of the Badinan prisoners before the trial: “They were neither journalists nor civil rights activists… they were spies of foreign governments and saboteurs.” This ruling confirms that the Badinan journalists and activists were sentenced not according to the rule of law but according to a political decision of the KDP to punish those who criticize corruption, suppress journalists, and quash civil society initiatives. 

The Court of Cassation’s decision comes as a shock to the family members of the Badinan prisoners and as well as to the Iraqi Kurdistan’s independent journalists and civil society. If courts cannot protect the rights of civil society activists from the power and reprisals of the political parties, then who can? 

The ruling of the Court of Cassation is final, and only in rare cases, the verdict can be overturned by the Committee of the Correction of Appeal Decisions. The defense lawyers will still attempt to appeal the ruling. However, based on what has already happened, the Badinan prisoners’ probability of receiving an overturned and just ruling is minimal. 

The rule of law has failed in the case of the Badinan journalists and activists. We as Christian Peacemaker Teams – Iraqi Kurdistan, alongside the families of the Badinan prisoners and members of civil society, call on the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, to uphold his commitment to protect the freedom of expression and invoke his authority to grant amnesty for Sherwan Sherwani, Shivan Saeed, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Essa, and Eyaz Karam.

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