In response to the sentencing of Iraqi Kurdish photojournalist Qaraman Shukri to seven years in prison in a secret trial, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued the following statement:
"Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq are making an appalling habit of sentencing journalists to prison without any regard for due process and for the rights and freedoms they claim to defend," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa representative, Ignacio Miguel Delgado. "The Kurdish regional government should immediately release photojournalist Qaraman Shukri, drop the charges against him, and stop imposing harsh prison sentences on members of the press."
On June 24, Shukri told his mother during a prison visit that he had been sentenced to seven years in prison during a closed trial without a lawyer present, according to news reports and the journalist's brother, Zeravan Shukri, who spoke to CPJ today via messaging app. Shukri did not say when the trial took place or what laws he was convicted of violating, according to those sources. The journalist's brother said the family is planning to send a lawyer to Zirka Prison, where Shukri is detained in the northwestern city of Duhok, to determine whether they can appeal the verdict.
Asayish security forces affiliated with Iraqi Kurdistan's ruling Democratic Party of Kurdistan arrested Shukri, a freelance photojournalist who has contributed to the news website Rojnews and the broadcaster Sterk TV, on January 27, as CPJ documented at the time. In an email in February, Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan regional government's international advocacy coordinator, accused Shukri of violating Article 156 of the Iraqi penal code, a clause banning acts intended to violate the country's unity, independence, or security; violations can be punished by life in prison.
Separately, the Kurdistan Region's Court of Appeals yesterday upheld the six-year prison sentences of freelance journalists Sherwan Amin Sherwani and Guhdar Zebari, also for allegedly violating national security laws, according to news reports and the Metro Center for Journalists' Rights and Advocacy, a local press freedom group.
Zebari did not immediately reply to CPJ's emailed request for comment on the recent verdict.