Iraqi Kurdistan: Court of Cassation upholds prison sentences against five activists and journalists

More than two months after prison sentences of six years each were issued against five journalists and activists on charges of acting against the state and sabotage, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s Court of Cassation upheld the decision on 28 April 2021.

In the court’s ruling, which was reviewed by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Second Penal Commission of the Court of Cassation in the Kurdistan Region decided “To reject the appeal and ratify the verdict in all its parts due to the incriminating evidence presented to the court, and return the case to the original court. The decision was issued by the majority of judges based on the provisions of Article 259 /1-A of the Penal Procedure Code.”

On 16 February 2021, the Second Criminal Court in Erbil had issued its verdict of six years’ imprisonment against five men – journalist and civil society activist Ayaz Karam Burji from Dohuk, teacher and civil society activist Hariwan Issa Mohammed from Simele, journalist Kohdar Mohammed Amin Zebari from Akre, freelance journalist and civil society activist Sherwan Amin Sherwani from Erbil, and political activist Mulla Shafan Saeed Omar Brushki (Dosky) from Dohuk.

Reliable local sources confirmed that among the five judges on the Second Penal Commission of the Court of Cassation, the three judges belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) voted to uphold the decision, while the other two judges, affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), voted to overturn it.

According to the allegations directed against the five activists and journalists, as noted in the appeal ruling, they were convicted of the following charges: organising a group with the intention of targeting sensitive areas and devices in the region, destroying security and stability in the region and causing sabotage operations, forming links with foreign persons and strangers for the purpose of carrying out their sabotage objectives, contacting the United States Consulate and the German Consulate, receiving assistance from an American organisation, and providing the International Association of Lawyers with pictures of the Peshmerga’s movements (Military Forces) in the Shiladze sub-district of Amadiya district in Dohuk Governorate as well as information on oil wells in the region.

The ruling was met with widespread condemnation and serious doubts about the independence of the judiciary in the Kurdistan Region. After this decision was issued, the team of lawyers in charge of defending the five journalists and activists announced that the decision issued by the Court of Cassation was a violation of the law.

The lawyers said during a press conference held in front of the Court of Cassation in Erbil on 06 May 2021, “Unfortunately, we were waiting for a decision that would be in favour of the detainees, but the majority of the votes of the court’s members ratified the verdict to imprison them for a period of six years.”

They added, “We respect the court’s decision, and we will take other methods to challenge the decision and will continue to make efforts” to free the defendants. They expressed their regret that the five journalists and activists were denied the presence of their lawyers while giving their statements, in violation of the law.

During the press conference, the defense team demanded the judges “return the case file and the detainees’ statements in the presence of the defense lawyer.” They also drew attention to the fact that “the charges against them are not sufficient grounds for sentencing them.” They also confirmed, “One of the charges against them is a visit to the US Consulate and the German Consulate, at a time when anyone can make such visits and it is not a problem at all.”

GCHR condemns, in the strongest terms, the approval of the Kurdistan Region Court of Cassation to imprison the five activists and journalists for a period of six years, and believes, given the flimsy and fabricated accusations on which the appeal decision was based, that the judiciary in the region has lost its independence and has become politicised, subject to the wishes and moods of politicians.

Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights

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