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UK ‘concerned’ detention, trial process of 5 journalists, activists

  2021-05-11  | 
 Zhyan News Network
A combined graphic of Journalists and activists Sherwan Sherwan, Shvan Saeed, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa and Ayaz Karam (L) and the French Consul General in Erbil (R) logo. The five were sentenced to six years in prison by a court in Erbil on February 16, 2021. Graphic by Zhyan News Network
 Zhyan News Network

SULAIMANI – Rubbing salt to already festered wound, the UK Consul General in Erbil said on Tuesday (May 11) that it was concerned with “allegations of shortcomings" in the process of detention, trial and ruling in the case of five convicted journalists and activists sentenced in February and upheld earlier in April.

On April 6, 2021, the Kurdistan Region Court of Cassation approved a six-year imprisonment sentence handed down to the three journalists and two activists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Isaa, Ayaz Karam and Shvan Saeed by an Erbil criminal court on February 16 over charges amounting to undermining the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region.

“The UK has seen the verdict from the Cassation Court of the KRI in the case relating to five journalists and activists, as announced on 6 May 2021. We are concerned at a series of allegations of shortcomings in the circumstances of their detention and in the trial process,” the UK consulate said.

One of the charges directed by the courts at the five is that “they contacted the US and German General Consulates, met their diplomats in a hotel and were paid by them, showed the diplomats in Dure in Barzan area" where ruling Barzani family belongs to. 

“We are also surprised by the references to meetings with foreign consulates in court documents; meeting with foreign diplomats should not be a crime,” the consulate continued. 

The German consulate in Erbil and foreign ministry, French consulate and EU mission in Iraq  have all called into question the controversial legal case, while the US Consulate General has reiterated its support to the freedom of press and expression. 

The court ruling and its ensuing approval by the appellate court have sparked internal and external condemnations and calls for an annulment of the court ruling.

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.

A retired judge from the Kurdistan Region Court of Cassation told Voice of America (VOA) that the court are not independent of interventions by the political parties and described the upheld case as “politically motivated.”

“The UK calls for full and scrupulous adherence to due process and the rule of law in the KRI, as everywhere else in the world," the UK consulate added. 

(Zhyan English)