ERBIL, Kurdistan Region of Iraq — Amnesty International has joined the chorus of international human rights organizations decrying the decision of the Appellate Court of Erbil Region of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) upheld the prison sentences of three journalists and two activists for “undermining state security”.
In a statement, Amnesty International wrote that:
On 16 February, the Erbil Criminal Court sentenced the five journalists and activists to six years in prison after a flagrantly unfair trial mired with serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and based on apparently trumped-up charges. Since their sentencing, the five activists and journalists had gone on hunger strike to protest their detention conditions. According to information available to Amnesty International, the five men are detained in overcrowded cells with no room to sleep, stand or walk. Throughout their detention, the five activists and journalists were forcibly disappeared, some for more than three months.
In light of the above, I urge you to immediately and unconditionally release Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karam and Shvan Saeed, immediately take all steps to ensure their unjust conviction is quashed or overturned and ensure a prompt and effective investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment with a view to holding perpetrators accountable and providing redress to them. Pending their release, I further urge you to ensure they have access to qualified health professionals providing health care in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentiality, autonomy, and informed consent and unfettered access to their lawyers and family.
Despite widespread condemnation for its handling of the matter, the Supreme Judicial Council argued in a statement that the lower court had made rulings based on accurate facts and records and handled the issues impartially at all stages of the trial.
Security forces in Nohadra (Duhok), who are allied with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), detained all five defendants last autumn as part of a crackdown on protest organizers and journalists.
They all vehemently refuted the charges against them, claiming that any of the claims accepted by the court included things they did not say, or were coerced into saying.