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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.