Journalist Sherwan Sherwani arbitrarily detained for his media coverage in Kurdistan

Journalist Sherwan Sherwani arbitrarily detained for his media coverage in Kurdistan

On October 7, 2020, Iraqi Kurdish journalist Sherwan Sherwani was arrested and subsequently forcibly disappeared for 19 days. On February 16, 2021, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. The decision was upheld on April 28, 2021, by the Appeals Court.

Sherwan Sherwani is an independent Iraqi Kurdish journalist who mainly investigates and denounces cases of human rights violations and social injustice in Kurdistan as well as of political corruption within the regional governmental institutions.

On October 7, 2020, Sherwan Sherwani was arrested in his home in Erbil by plain-clothed men with their faces covered. The arrest warrant he was presented with did not indicate the reason for his arrest. Following his arrest, Sherwani was forcibly disappeared for 19 days.

On October 11, 2020, the Kurdistan regional government’s international advocacy coordinator accused Sherwani on Twitter of receiving “foreign funding with the aim of destabilising the country”, of endangering the lives of judges, and of encouraging violence during anti-government protests. Sherwani later told his lawyer that he was kept in solitary confinement and subjected to acts of torture by his interrogates, with the aim of forcing him to confess to these accusations.

On October 26, 2020, Sherwani’s lawyer was allowed to visit his client for the first time at the Asayish Gishti detention centre in Erbil, which is run by the Kurdish security agency. The lawyer reported that Sherwani’s psychological and physical state had considerably deteriorated. Moreover, the Asayish authorities repeatedly denied Sherwani’s family the right to visit him.

On November 27, 2020, six UN Special Procedures mandate holders sent a letter to the Iraqi Government requesting additional information and/or comments on Sherwani’s alleged enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.

On February 16, 2021, Sherwani was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment together with four other activists and journalists by the Erbil Criminal Court. They were charged under a provision prohibiting “acts prejudicial to the security, stability and sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq” and accused, inter alia, of having gathered information and passed it on to foreign actors outside of Iraq in exchange for money and of having collected arms to supply an unidentified armed group. Observers have denounced the violations of fair trial standards during the hearing and the court’s dismissal without further examination of torture allegations raised by the defendants.

On April 28, 2021, the Appeals Court upheld both the conviction and the sentence of Sherwani as well as of the four other defendants, in a process marred by violations of due process guarantees and a lack of supporting evidence.

Sherwani has been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Kurdish authorities due to his journalistic activities in the past already.

Timeline

April 28, 2021: The Appeals Court upholds the sentence for Sherwani as well as the other four defendants.
February 16, 2021: Sherwani as well as four other activists and journalists are sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, followed by five years’ police surveillance, by the Erbil Criminal Court.
November 27, 2020: Six UN Special Procedures mandate holders send a letter to the Iraqi Government requesting additional information and/or comments on Sherwani’s alleged enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention.
November 27, 2020: MENA Rights Group and Reporters Without Borders request the urgent intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the UN Working Group on enforced or involuntary or enforced disappearances.
October 26, 2020: Sherwani’s lawyer is allowed to visit him for the first time at the Asayish Gishti detention centre in Erbil. Sherwani informs his lawyer that he was subjected to torture by those interrogating him to force him to confess to the accusations made against him.
October 11, 2020: The Kurdistan regional government’s international advocacy coordinator accuses Sherwani on Twitter of receiving “foreign funding with the aim of destabilising the country”, endangering the lives of judges, and encouraging violence during anti-government protests.
October 7, 2020: Sherwani is arbitrarily arrested in his home in Erbil.