In response to [Tuesday's] sentencing of Iraqi Kurdish freelance journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari to six years each in jail, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has issued the following statement:
"Today's sentencing of journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari is not only unfair and disproportionate, but it also proves that the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government has finally dropped the pretense of caring about press freedom," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado.
"Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq should immediately release both journalists, drop the charges against them, and cease harassing the media."
The Erbil criminal court convicted each journalist of "destabilizing the security and stability of the Kurdistan Region," according to news reports and Sherwani's lawyer Mohammed Abdullah, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Abdullah told CPJ that the evidence on which Sherwani was convicted was insufficient and baseless. Rahman Gharib, general coordinator of the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, a local press freedom group that is monitoring the case, told CPJ via messaging app that the group called for the sentences to be reduced on appeal.
Kurdish security forces arrested Sherwani and Zebari in October 2020, as CPJ documented at the time. During a press conference on February 10, the Kurdistan Regional Government's prime minister, Masrour Barzani, accused journalists and activists arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan's Duhok and Erbil governorates in 2020 of being spies, according to the Kurdish broadcaster NRT.
Dindar Zebari, the regional government's coordinator for international advocacy, did not immediately reply to CPJ's emailed request for comment.