U.S., Germany call for ‘unconditional release’ of activists: Kurdish official

Daban Shadala, Deputy head of Department of Foreign Relations in the Kurdistan Region

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United States and Germany have called for the “unconditional release” of activists and journalists sentenced to prison in Erbil in February, a Kurdish official said.

Daban Shadala, deputy head of the Kurdistan Region’s department of foreign relations, said the United States and Germany did not need activists to spy for them, as the court ruling accused them of having links to the case.

The court of cassation in Erbil upheld convictions of the journalists and activists in May, who were detained in Duhok province in October 2020 over allegedly undermining national security in the Region.

On February 16, Erbil criminal court-2 sentenced journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebrai and Ayaz Karam as well as activists Shvan Omer and Hariwan Issa to six years each in jail on national security charges.

The ruling also alleged that that the defendants “contacted the U.S. and German consulates and received money,” without giving further details.

It also alleged that “the defendants confessed that they had met with the German consul in one of the hotels in Erbil and they sent him [the consul] to Dora area twice, directed by the head of the group defendant Shirwan Amina Na’oo.”

The decision caused reactions among people and diplomatic missions in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.

“There was a rush in the decision. It could have been solved in other ways,” Shadala said in an interview with Esta Media Network published on Saturday.

“Germany and the United States don’t need activists to spy for them. They are here and they have consulates and soldiers in the Region,” he said.

“The court’s decision is bad for the reputation of the Kurdistan Region’s diplomacy, and a rapid solution must be found. The United States and Germany stress the unconditional release of the activists.”

The official said the president and the prime minister were now working to find a solution for the case.

On June 6, lawyer Bashdar Hassan said the case of the five journalists and activists was sent back to the court of cassation after their lawyers presented their last appeal to the court.

People including lawyers and judges criticized the ruling, saying it was a “political decision” to punish the journalists and activists, who called for protests in Duhok province.

U.S. and European consulates in Erbil as well as EU embassy in Baghdad expressed concern and shock over the ruling which allegedly linking the diplomatic missions to the case.

The lawyer further said two other court trials would be held on July 5 and 12 on the cases of nine activists who were also detained in Duhok province.

Some of the activists are charged with espionage and undermining national security, the lawyer said.

Two other activists, Badal Barwari and Omed Baroshki, would be tried on August 17, he added.

“There are still 35 more activists whose cases are still at Asayish,” Hassan noted, referring to the directorate of security in Duhok.

Talking about Turkey-PKK conflict, the Kurdish official said the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should take into consideration the “sensitive” situation of the Kurdistan Region as its political affairs “are in Turkey, and those issues shouldn’t be brough to the Kurdistan Region”.

“The Kurdistan Region is facing several crises, such as economic and political crises. So, the Region cannot solve the issue between Turkey and PKK … A basic political solution is needed,” he added.

Shadala further said the Kurdistan Region had expressed its concern to the Turkish embassy to Iraq regarding violations of the Region’s border by the Turkish military.

“They say the reason is the PKK,” he added.

Turkey has taken its decades-old conflict with the PKK deep into the Kurdistan Region, establishing military bases and deploying armed military drones against the fighters in their mountain strongholds.

Most of the operations have focused on territory up to 30 km (20 miles) from the border.

Concerning deforestation on the Region’s border, Shadala said during the interview that Turkey had halted cutting down trees.

“We have conveyed our concern to the Turkish embassy and we have told them that it is an inappropriate act against the nature of Kurdistan and cannot be accepted,” he added.

Two Kurdish lawmakers said earlier this month that the Turkish military had started deforestation and logging in areas on the Kurdistan Region’s border areas.

Lawmaker Hividar Ahmed posted several photos on Facebook showing logs piled in several areas where he said the Turkish army had cut down trees on the border areas.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Spokesperson Jotiar Adil said Erbil had requested Turkey to put an end to deforestation in the Kurdistan Region.

“The KRG is concerned and expresses dissatisfaction about deforestation and damaging the nature of the Kurdistan Region, and it has formally requested Turkey to put an end to deforestation on the border areas, which is not acceptable,” Adil said in a statement.

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