KRG authorities pile on additional charge for journalist Sherwani, alleging he defamed Asayish

Reminiscent of treatment of journalist Hemin Mamand
Journalist Sherwan Sherwani (file)

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SULAIMANI — Imprisoned journalist Sherwan Sherwani was taken to a police station on Sunday (February 28) to be booked in relation to a defamation complaint filed by the Erbil Asayish Directorate.

The new charge is separate and in addition to the charges he faces along with four other activists and journalists. They were each sentenced to six years in prison on February 16 after being convicted of conspiring to undermine the security of the Kurdistan Region.

They deny the charges against them and have appealed.

Sherwani’s lawyer Bashdar Hassan confirmed news of the new charge to NRT, saying that it stemmed from comments allegedly made by Sherwani about the Asayish during his trial.

The case against Sherwani, fellow journalists Guhdar Zebari, and Ayaz Karam and activists Shvan Saeed Omar and Hariwan Issa has elicited widespread criticism that the prosecution was politically motivated.

Several defendants said that their confessions that were accepted by the court contained things that they never said and that they had been coerced into giving them.

On Friday, Amnesty International called for the five to be released immediately, characterizing the charges against them as “trumped-up.”

It is a common tactic for prosecutors in the Kurdistan Region to tack on additional defamation charges for a defendant who speaks out about their treatment by the authorities.

Last spring, journalist Hemin Mamand ended up with five different cases against him after criticizing the KRG’s early response to the coronavirus pandemic and predicting that the government would be unable to financially help people struggling with its effects.

Initially, the security forces arrested him and charged him with allegedly inciting protests and encouraging people to violate the lockdown order. Released on bail, he criticized the security forces for arresting him, bringing two new charges of for allegedly defaming the Erbil Police and the KRG interior ministry.

Barzani’s office and the health ministry also accused him of violating Article 2 of the Communications Device Misuse Law because he posted the comments online.

The authorities also dredged up old charges against in relation to comments he made about the assassination of a Turkish diplomat in Erbil from the previous summer to compound his legal problems.

The additional charges put psychological pressure on a defendant and make it difficult for them to afford pre-trial bail if that is an option.

(NRT Digital Media)