General: Iraqi Kurdistan: Authorities use the judiciary to silence voices calling for reform

04.07.21

The decision of the Court of Cassation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dated 28 April 2021, to uphold the six-year prison sentences against five journalists and activists, sparked a wave of indignation and anger at the local and international levels, as citizens, as well as human rights organisations and some Western governments, demanded the immediate release of the five convicts and all prisoners of conscience.

It was stated in the cassation ruling decision, issued on 28 April 2021, that 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.”

In mid-May 2021, the defense team for the five activists and journalists,  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 (main picture), presented an appeal petition to the Supreme Judicial Council of the Kurdistan Region, which is based in the capital of the region Erbik, calling for the aforementioned Court of Cassation decision to be corrected, and for an expanded  committee of judges to study this request. This request was not implemented, as the appeal petition was submitted to Second Penal Commission of the Court of Cassation in the Kurdistan Region, which is the same body that issued the ruling.

On 20 June 2021, the Second Penal Commission of the Court of Cassation in the Kurdistan Region issued its decision No. 52, a copy of which was shared with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), rejecting the appeal petition submitted by the defense team as well as the correction request submitted by a member of the Public Prosecution. In its decision, it stated the following, "The punishment imposed on each of them is six years in prison, commensurate with the gravity and danger of the crime.... and that the decision by the Cassation Court... does not include any error in the application of the law that requires correction."

In another separate case, nine political activists will be presented in two groups before the Second Criminal Court in Erbil, where the first group, which includes the names listed below, will appear for trial on 05 July 2021:

Dr. Amer Khaled Akeed Dohuky (Dohuk city)

Fersht Ahmed Saeed (Dohuk city)

Suleiman Kamal Hariki (Akre District)

Suleiman Mousa Zebari (Akre District)

Jamal Khalil Sindi (Zakho District)

While the second group will appear on 12 July 2021 and includes the following names:

Masoud Ali Sinjari (Dohuk city)

Sherwan Taha Cougar (Simele District)

Karkar Abbas Ali Rostinki (Dohuk city)

Bandar Ayoub Rashid (Dohuk city)

They have been charged with conspiring against the security of the Kurdistan region, cooperating with foreign countries, and trying to form a parliamentary bloc to support the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

The first hearing in the trial of teacher and civil society activist Badal Abdulbaqi Barwari, and the journalist and civil society activist Omid Haji Brushki, before the same court, both of them from the city of Dohuk, charged with organizing and participating in peaceful popular demonstrations.

The 9 political activists and the 2 civil society activists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in August and September 2020. 

Recommendations:

GCHR calls on the Kurdistan Regional Government to repeal the six-year prison sentence against the five journalists and activists and to immediately and unconditionally release them and all detainees in violation of their right to assembly. The authorities must fulfill their constitutional obligations not to violate public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press.