By its affirmation of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Erbil Criminal court and cassation court, the penal panel rejected team of defense’s call for the correction and revocation of prison ruling against the five journalists and activists.
The penal panel two of Iraqi Kurdistan Appellate Court has issued its final verdict unanimously on June 20, confirming the court ruling of six-years-in-prison for freelance journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Mohammed Zebari, and civil society activists Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Essa & Shivan Sa'id.
The five detainees were found guilty of "undermining national security" and sentenced to six years in prison by the Erbil Criminal Court on February, 16th.
The penal panel of Kurdistan region's Court of Cassation rejected the appeal of the ruling on April 28th and delivered to the proxies of the five detainees on May 6th, a step that sparked wide protests locally and internationally.
However, the penal panel has dropped the charges of connections with foreign individual and bodies.
“The two consulates have no connection with those acts as their presence in (Iraqi) Kurdistan region is a support for the region and the judiciary by offering rehabilitation programs locally and abroad to develop KRG governmental and judicial powers,” June 20th verdict says at the end of the order.
"By their own admission, they have formed unlawful associations with foreigners and strangers in order to implement their criminal goals. They contacted the American and the German consulate and received money from them," a paragraph from the verdict by the penal panel of Kurdistan region's court of Cassation states on April 28th.
"The defendants also confessed that they had met with the German consul in a hotel," a paragraph of the cassation court verdict states.
The German and US consulated in Erbil slammed at the court verdict's suspicious reference and called for release of the journalists.
"The Court’s reference today is absurd & goes against the spirit of our close & friendly relations between Germany and the Kurdistan region of Iraq," the German Consulate in Erbil tweeted in response to Cassation Court verdict in May.
"We call upon the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's President to invoke his power to grant amnesty. Free exchanges with journalists & activists are part & parcel of diplomats’ daily work, also of the German Consulate in Erbil," it added.
In response to the court's reference to the consulate of the United States in Erbil, the spokesperson of the consulate said, "We expect host governments all around the world to respect the work of U.S. diplomats, who much like journalists, meet with a variety of people in order to do their jobs. We extend this same courtesy to foreign diplomats working in the US, including to representatives of the KRG."
Brought before a court in the regional capital, Erbil, on February 15, the five detainees of Badinan and tens in prison are victims of a wave of arrests carried out by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) last October in response to a series of major protests against delay in salaries of state employees, KRG handling of the economic crisis resulting from disputes over oil production, export and corruption, and reached its peak under the Covid-19 pandemic.
“With the Erbil Court of Cassation’s decision to uphold the 6-year jail sentences of journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani & Guhdar Zebari, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government has shown that its purported commitment to press freedom is nothing but empty words,” said Ignacio Miguel Delgado, MENA representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ, in a statement on May 6th.
The conviction was based on bill number 21 approved by parliament of Kurdistan, Iraq, in 2003 which revoked item 156 of Iraq penal code stating that "any one purposefully in any means involved in an action that harms security, stability and sovereignty Iraqi Kurdistan region's institutions and causes damage will face life imprisonment or shor- term imprisonment."
The detainees denied all the charges. Journalists, civil society activists and lawmakers condemned the conviction as a restraint of freedom of press and expression and accused the court of inadequate unfair investigation and a trial full of shortcomings.
Members of Iraqi Kurdistan parliament hold th KRG accountable for restraints on journalists and civil society activists.
"There is no one arrested possessing weapon, no one confessed the charges and no witnesses attended the court session, there is no even one bullet so where is the proof to convict these five persons? I think this is pre-arranged," MP Ali Hama Saleh said in the press conference in support of the convicted.