Media outlets release joint statement opposing treatment of Duhok journalists, activists

Families of journalists and activists arrested last year react following the verdict in front of the Erbil Appellate Court building on February 16, 2021 (NRT Digital Media/Winthrop Rodgers)

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SULAIMANI — Fifteen local media outlets and agencies in the Kurdistan Region on Saturday (February 20) released a joint statement expressing their outrage that a court in Erbil sentenced five journalists and activists to six years in prison in what many see as retribution for their work.

Journalists Sherwan Sherwani, Guhdar Zebari, and Ayaz Karam and activists Shvan Saeed Omar and Hariwan Issa were detained in Duhok governorate last year as part of a crackdown on protest organizers and journalists by the local security forces, which are affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP).

On Tuesday, they were convicted of conspiring to undermine the security of the Kurdistan Region, eliciting widespread criticism of the trial was politically motivated and based on flimsy evidence and coerced and inaccurate confessions.

The media outlets who signed the joint statement include Nalia Media Corporation, Kirkuk Now, Standard Agency for Media and Research, Sardam Printing and Publishing House, Spi Media, Shar Press Agency, Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, Draw Media, Komal Media Network, Speda, Westga Media, Esta, Dang Radio, Hiwa Channel, and Awena.

In the statement, the agencies argued that the authorities tried the journalists under national security statutes rather than the Kurdistan Region’s Press Law in order to impose more severe punishments, intimidate the defendants, and restrict freedom of expression.

“Certainly, that development will encourage more censorship and self-censorship,” the statement said, adding that “such a development is a great danger.”

(NRT Digital Media)