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Hard times for freedom of the press in Iraki Kurdistan… Three journalists, Sherwan Sherwani, Ayaz Karam, Godhar Zebari and two activists, Shivan Saeed, a cleric member of the political Party “Coalition for democracy and justice”, and Hariwan Issa, an athlete with no known affiliations but who has participated in different assemblies, were sentenced by a judicial tribunal in Erbil to 6 years in prison for having “destabilized the security of the country”.

All five were arrested in October 2020. All of them known for their critical views on the PDK, the Barzani clan’s Party. The journalists, specifically, for their investigations on human rights violations by party accomplices – assassinations of opponents, beatings, intimidations – or again on issues of corruption. The CPJ (Comity for the protection of journalists), for example, had already denounced previous intimidations to which G. Zebari was subjected and his numerous arrests.

The proximity between the Barzani clan and Erdoğan can also be found now in the methods used to silence dissident voices. According to witnesses, during his hearing, Sherwan Sherwani called out to the judge: “Your Honor, I was tortured. They beat me. They threatened to rape my wife. What would you have done if this had happened to you? What would any of you have done?”

Another man, Ayaz Karam who worked previously as a journalist but was unemployed when he was arrested, was accused of having received money from foreign powers in order to destabilize Kurdistan. In total: 200$ received from a relative residing abroad, and 10$ worth of phone credit offered by a friend…

Sherwan Sherwani, Ayaz Karam, Gohdar Zebari, Shivan Saeed, Hariwan Issa

The lawyers were not given access to the evidence and were not allowed to see their clients before the trial, in violation of every treaty on human rights. The prosecutor’s files were very slim: a few messages drawn from WhatsApp or Messenger conversations. One is accused of spying because he received on his phone a photo of interior offices of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan…(a photo illustrating an article he had written on the topic)…

Several demonstrations were held to denounce this Kafkaesque trial against journalists and other opponents, in towns not under the Barzani’s control. We are now awaiting reactions from promoters of the Kurdistan regional Government (KRG), historians, journalists, editorialists or other leaders of the Kurdish Institute in Paris, for example, who are constantly praising the democratic character prevalent in the region…

In the meantime, while the propagation of Covid intensifies, the majority of the population is suffering from an economic crisis aggravated by corruption, and must now deal with the Barzani clan’s Erdoganesque authoritarianism in its support of the Turkish State’s military campaigns against the PKK in the Northern mountains.


This article was largely inspired to the Twitter threads of Renwar Najm (@RenwarNajm), Rebaz Majeed (@Rebaz_Majeed), and Kurdistan Watch (@KurdistanWatch).

Headline Illustration: Sherwan Sherwani, Gohdar Zebari, Ayaz Karam

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Photo-journaliste indépendant
Loez s'intéresse depuis plusieurs années aux conséquences des États-nations sur le peuple kurde, et aux luttes de celui-ci.