Court’s decision confirms ‘urgent need for judicial reform’ in Kurdistan Region: UNAMI

A combined picture of five journalists and activists sentenced to six years in jail

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United Nations said on Monday a decision by an Erbil court that approved the 6-year prison sentence for five journalists and activists confirmed the “urgent need for judicial and institutional reform” in the Kurdistan Region.

On Sunday, the court of appeals in Erbil approved the convictions against journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari and Ayaz Karam as well as activists Shvan Omer and Hariwan Issa, after their lawyers presented the second appeal to the court.

Their first appeal was denied in April. They were sentenced to six years each in prison in February on national security charges.

“Yesterday’s decision by the Kurdistan Region’s Cassation Court regrettably confirms the urgent need for judicial and institutional reform in the KRI to prevent such miscarriages of justice in future,” UNAMI said in a tweet.

Earlier on Monday, Head of Canada’s office in Erbil Ashley Durec also said she was “disappointed” with the court’s decision, adding that “the unhindered work of journalists is key to an open and informed society”.

EU Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth said on Sunday he was “appalled” by the court’s ruling against the journalists and activists already convicted in May “despite serious procedural flaws and allegations of mistreatment identified by the U.N.

“Freedom of expression and media freedom, as well as an independent professional judiciary are essential components of a democracy,” he tweeted.

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.

The Kurdish security forces arrested the five in Duhok province in October 2020 over allegedly undermining national security in the region.

Prime Minister Masrour Barzani accused some of the detainees of being spies and planning to assassinate and blow up diplomatic missions in the Region.

“Those who were detained are not journalists and activists. Some of them were spies of countries and some others attempted to explode buildings and places of foreigners in the Region,” Barzani said, referring to diplomatic missions in the Region.

In denying its first appeal, the court 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.”

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

In its second ruling, the court of appeals removed the statements related to the two consulates.

It states that the “names of the American and German consulates were not mentioned in the defendants’ testimonies, except for the statement of the accused Shirwan Amin Na’oo, who camouflaged them as a journalist”.

“The consulates had nothing to do with their work, and the presence of these consulates in the Kurdistan Region is to support the Region and the judicial authority,” the court’s ruling says.

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