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Five journalists, activists sentenced in Erbil in deeply flawed proceedings: HRW

  2021-04-22  | 
 Zhyan News Network
Court in Erbil sentenced five journalists, activists in deeply flawed proceedings: HRW
 Zhyan News Network

SULAIMANI – New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday (April 22) that a court in Erbil sentenced three journalists and two activists to six years in jail in February in deeply flawed proceedings and two others have been held in custody without substantiated evidence to try them. 

Last summer and autumn, a number of journalists and activists were arrested by the security forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil in a bid to crack down protests criticism over the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) decision to delay and slash public sector salary payments amid deteriorating economic conditions.

On February 16, a court in Erbil sentenced five of the detainees to six years in prison over controversial charges for undermining the stability and security of the Kurdistan Region, but they deny the charges and claim their confessions were manipulated.

“The proceedings in the Erbil Criminal Court were marred by serious violations of fair trial standards as well as high-level political interference. Authorities involved in the appeal should consider these violations when deciding whether to oppose the appeal,” the HRW said in a statement.

“Flawed trials in the Kurdistan Region are nothing new,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, “But flaunting the most basic principles of justice to punish people for allegedly planning protests is a new low.”

Three sources, who attended the April 16 trial, told the watchdog that the KRG have not provided sufficient evidence to charge the other two, activist and teacher Badal Barwary and journalist Omid Haji, so far as their cases have been returned to the investigative judge. 

The three sources also told HRW that all seven were detained for months without access to their lawyers, including during interrogations and the investigative hearing.

On April 16, Kurdistan Parliament Speaker Rewaz Fayaq called into question the judiciary in the Kurdistan Region for their dealing with the issue. 

A prominent journalist and media rights activist Asos Hardi said that he believes “all seven men were only being prosecuted because they had tried to protest against the regional government.”
On Monday, lawyer for Badinan the detainees Bashdar Hassan said that nine other of the detainees had been prepared to face trial and their status had been changed to laborers to facilitate convicting them.

Local and international watchdogs have voiced alarm by the aggravating state of freedom of press and expression in the Region, especially after clampdowns on anti-government protests by the security forces affiliated with Barzani’s party the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in areas under its jurisdiction last year. 

385 violations against journalists and media outlets were logged throughout 2020, according to the local watchdog Metro Center for Journalists’ Rights and Advocacy.

On Wednesday, Kurdistan Parliament designated April 22 as Kurdish Journalism Day in an unanimous vote. 

(Zhyan English)