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Germany calls for amnesty for five convicted journalists, activists

  2021-05-07  | 
 Zhyan News Network
The building of German Consulate General in Erbil. Photo by German Mission in Iraq
 Zhyan News Network

SULAIMANI – Hours after a sentence approval was made public, Germany's foreign ministry on Thursday (May 6) appealed to Kurdistan Region President to use his power to issue an amnesty to five journalists and activists sentenced in February over “espionage” charges.

On February 16, Second Branch of the Erbil Criminal Court sentenced the five 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.

It was made public on Thursday that the Region's appellate court, three out of the court's total five judges, approved the sentence as it was signed on April 28. 

The February court trial “suffered from serious shortcoming. Insufficient access of lawyers to their clients. Of particular concern are allegations of confessions extracted through torture and pressure while in detention,” the German foreign ministry said.

“The convicts telephoned the German and US consulates [in Erbil], met their diplomats in a hotel and were paid by them, as well as they visited Dure area in Barzan,” the court’s written document said.

“German Consulate in Erbil regrets today´s decision by the Court of Cassation against five journalists & activists. The decision remains difficult to comprehend, lacking clear proof of punishable crimes. We call upon KRI President to invoke his power to grant amnesty,” the German Consulate tweeted.

“The Court’s reference today is absurd & goes against the spirit of our close and friendly relations between,” the consulate said in another tweet. “Free exchanges with journalists & activists are part and parcel of diplomats’ daily work, also of German Consulate in Erbil.”

US Consulate General in Erbil declined to comment on the approval, but it reiterated its support to freedom of expression media.

“While we do not comment on individual court cases, the United States has supported freedom of expression and media since our founding. It is part of our identity and we continue to promote it as one of our core values,” the US consulate said. 

“We expect host governments all around the world to respect the work of US diplomats, who—much like journalists—meet with a variety of people in order to do their jobs.  We extend this same courtesy to foreign diplomats working in the United States, including to representatives of the KRG.”

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also condemned the appellate court’s approval.

“With the Erbil Court of Cassation’s decision to uphold the six-year jail sentences of journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government has shown that its purported commitment to press freedom is nothing but empty words,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado, mentioning two of the convicts. 

“Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq should immediately release both journalists, drop the charges against them, and stop harassing members of the media.”

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Coordinator for International Advocacy Dindar Zebari said at a news conference on Thursday that the government “is the implementing side. We have full belief in the court and the Kurdistan Region Judicial Authority is independent.”

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.  

Last summer and autumn, a number of journalists and activists, including the five, 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.

(Zhyan English)