Urgent Action: Journalists Must Be Released Immediately (Iraq: UA 28.21)

February 26, 2021

On 16 February, the 2nd Erbil Criminal Court, in the Kurdish Region of Iraq’s capital, sentenced activists and journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karan and Shvan Saeed to six years in prison following an unfair trial, based on trumped-up charges of “destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I)”. The five journalists are now on hunger strike as they await the appeal verdict expected to take place by 16 March. They must be immediately and unconditionally released.

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CONTACT INFORMATION

Dr. Dindar Zebari
KRG Coordinator Office for International Advocacy (OCIA) Erbil
Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @DrDindarZebari
Ambassador Fareed Yasseen
Embassy of the Republic of Iraq
3421 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20007
Phone: 202 742 1600 I Fax: 202 333 1129
Contact Form: https://bit.ly/2FGGCEU
Twitter: @IraqiEmbassyUSA
Facebook: @IraqiEmbassyUSA
Salutation: Dear Ambassador

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Dr. Zebari,

On 16 February, the Erbil Criminal Court sentenced activists and journalists – Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karam and Shvan Saeed – to six years in prison after a flagrantly unfair trial mired with serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, based on apparently trumped-up charges of “destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I)” under Article 1 of Law No. 21 (2003). They are now awaiting the appeal verdict, expected to be delivered by 16 March.

Since their sentencing, the five journalists have been on hunger strike to protest their detention conditions. According to information available to Amnesty International, they are detained in overcrowded cells with no room to sleep, stand or walk, together with over 100 prisoners. In such conditions, the journalists and other detainees are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

Members of the Kurdish security forces (otherwise known as Asayish) arrested Sherwan Sherwani on 7 October 2020 in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s capital, and the other 4 journalists – Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karam and Shvan Saeed – on 22 October 2020 in Duhok, another main city in the KRG, in relation to their involvement in anti-government protests over unpaid wages and corruption. Throughout their detention, the five journalists were forcibly disappeared, some for more than three months. They had very limited access to their lawyers and family members. The five journalists told either their lawyers or family members that they had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. During the court hearing, all five journalists said that they had been forced to sign “confessions” under duress, but the court dismissed those claims. In addition, the hearing was held in closed session, as security forces barred entrance, including to immediate family members.

I urge you to immediately and unconditionally release Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, Hariwan Issa, Ayaz Karam and Shvan Saeed; immediately take all steps to ensure their unjust conviction is overturned; and ensure a prompt and effective investigation into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment with a view to holding perpetrators accountable and providing redress to them. Pending their release, I further urge you to ensure they have access to qualified health professionals providing health care in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentiality, autonomy, and informed consent and have unfettered access to their lawyers and family.

Yours sincerely,

[YOUR NAME]

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES