Guhdar Zebari: trial for third case or release?

Journalist Guhdar Mohammed Zebari, in a photo before his arrest, denounces murder of and violations against journalists and restrictions on freedom of expression. Zebari’s Facebook account

By Ammar Aziz

After serving two consecutive prison sentences, freelance journalist Guhdar Zebari is facing a third case, scheduled to be tried on Sunday, August 2. However, his relatives insist that he was previously sentenced for that case.

Zebari was scheduled to be released from Erbil Rehabilitation Facility on Wednesday, August 16, but was transferred to the Erbil security forces (Asayish) charged of a new case, according to his lawyer and relatives.

His brother, Zedan Zebari, told KirkukNow, “We left Akre for Erbil on Wednesday morning with great hopes. It was the last day of his sentence and we were planning to take him back home with us but we were told he was taken to Asayish.”

“They told us he is detained for a new case against him, allegedly found a (hunting) gun when he was arrested at my sister’s called a Jift or Tapirt (in Kurdish,” he added.

"The excuse for detaining Guhdar shocked us because the judge had previously fined him 100,000 dinars for this case."

Guhdar must appear before the judge and say that this weapon does not belong to him

Badinan detainees are victims of a wave of arrests carried out by the Kurdish security forces Asayish since June 2020 in response to a series of major protests against delay in salaries of state employees, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s KRG handling of the economic crisis resulting from disputes with Baghdad over oil production, export and corruption, and reached its peak under the Covid-19 pandemic.

The freelance reporters Zebari and Sherwan Sherwani, along with civic activists Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Essa & Shivan Sa'id were arrested in 2020 and convicted guilty of disturbing national security of Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR by Erbil criminal court on February 16, 2021, for six years in prison among over 80 detainees of Badinan (Duhok province).

The president of Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKRP per his power has reduced the conviction sentence for five of Badinan detainees from six years to two years and half, expected to be released last September.

However, the local authorities of the IKR have decided in February 2022 to punish Sherwani though included in a presidential decree for reduction of sentence by 60% by reducing his sentence only 50% following his comments of defiance.

Zebari was scheduled to be released on March 16, 2023 after reducing his sentence by 60 percent, but was sentenced to a new case of allegedly changing the logo of his car during his arrest. He was sentenced to seven months in prison. It was later appealed to five months.

Bashdar Hassan, the lawyer of the Badinan Journalists and Activists Defense Team, said in a statement, "This is a baseless accusation, because his car, which was an old Daewoo model, before buying the logo was changed to Toyota. Most of such violations are punishable by fines.”

Badinan detainees: From right: Sherwan Amin Sherwani, Guhdar Mohammed Zebari, Ayaz Karam, Hariwan Isa and Shivan Saeed

“I went to the Erbil sayish on Thursday, August 17th, but they did not allow me to see the director of the security forces.”

“I asked him about the case, and he said Guhdar was convicted on a case related to Article 15 of the weapons law in the Kurdistan Region,” Hassan added.

According to Article 15 of the Arms Law in the Kurdistan Region, which was passed by the Kurdistan Parliament in 2022, anyone who carries, sells, repairs, or possesses a firearm or ammunition without a license is punishable by imprisonment for one to three years, with a fine of not less than two million dinars and not more than five million dinars.

According to the law, firearms include “pistols and automatic rifles,” but bullet weapons include bullets used in firearms and any parts thereof.

However, the law was passed in 2022, while Zebari’s case was in 2020.

"In this case, Guhdar cannot be tried according to the 2022 weapons law. He must be tried according to the law in force at the time of the case," Latif Mustafa, a legal expert and retired judge, told KirkukNow.

“In the new law, Article 21 has been changed to Article 15. In this case, Guhdar must be tried according to Article 21 of the old law, because when Guhdar was arrested, the old law was applicable.”

According to Article 21 of the Weapons Law No. 16 of 1993, the possession of weapons without a license is not allowed. Posession of unlicensed weapons is punishable by 1,000 to 3,000 Iraqi Dinars IQD and up to one-year imprisonment.

Excerpt of Article 21 of the Weapons Law No. 16 of 1993

However, the same article states that "if proven to spread terrorism, disrupt public security and support any insurgency against the Kurdistan Regional Government, the punishment is life imprisonment.

Zebari's relatives said the weapon was not seized from his sister's house and belonged to his grandfather. He was sentenced to 100,000 Iraqi dinars in the same case.

In December 2021, Bashdar Hassan told KirkukNow, “The Kurdistan Regional Security and Information Council filed a complaint against Guhdar on charges of possessing an illegal weapon.”

Guhdar's lawyer, said that his relatives say that "We have heard that, but we have not seen any official letter that the judge fined him," he said.

"Anyone who is convicted once on a case cannot be tried again on the same case if he has been convicted on that case before," Mustafa said.

According to the law, everyone is tried once on a case

Local and international media development organizations express their grave concern that that press freedom is increasingly under threat in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Independent commission for human rights in Kurdistan region recorded arrest of 300 people from August to October 2020 for "organization of protests and disorder mainly in Duhok northern province.”

The KRG has sent over 50 activists and journalists to court in 2020 and 2021 and some of the cases are still pending at court awaiting trial.

Guhdar's relatives are currently awaiting a decision on his third case. Sherwan Sherwani was sentenced to another four years in prison on July 20, 2023, on charges of “fraud”.

"He will either be released on bail or fined on Sunday," Hassan said.

  • FB
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • YT