An appeals court in Iraqi Kurdistan on Tuesday upheld a six-year prison sentence for five journalists and activists after criticizing rights groups.
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Defense lawyer Esso Hashem told AFP that “three of the three judges upheld the sentence” passed on February 16 by a court in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Former judge and legalist Latif Mustafa, who left the Kurdish judicial system on its politicization, confirmed the ruling.
Journalists Ayaz Karam, Kohidar Zebari and Sherwan Sherwani, as well as activists Shivan Said and Harvian Issa, faced a number of charges, including “spying and destabilizing Kurdistan” as well as “espionage”, “armed” conflict and “Misuse of electronic devices” are included.
Five people participated in or participated in anti-government demonstrations in several Kurdish cities and towns last year, which caused a major fiscal crisis that delayed public sector pay and salary cuts.
Human Rights Watch said the charge of “espionage” was based solely on social media posts and testimony from “undercover informers” who did not appear and were not cross-examined.
“These people were sentenced because of a partisan political will,” HRW senior researcher Bellis Wille alleged.
A US State Department report last year on human rights in Kurdistan stated that “senior leaders have allegedly influenced politically sensitive matters”.
Sherwani, known for investigating corruption, had criticized Kurdish Prime Minister Masroor Barjani on Facebook before his arrest.
Wills said the court’s ruling represents “how much Kurdish authorities have allowed to abolish free expression”.
On Monday, World Press Freedom Day, journalist Karoukh Othman was arrested in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyyah.
Curzon Fadel, a lawyer at the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Development in Suleimaniyah, lists “74 political prisoners” in Erbil and Dohuk, all “disgruntled or protesters indiscriminately arrested on charges of security crimes or terrorism”.
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