CPJ protests 30-year jail term for Kurdish writer on defamation conviction

New York, January 11, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the authorities in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region to overturn the conviction and 30-year prison sentence handed down to Kurdish writer Kamal Karim for defamation.

Karim, whose name is also given as Kamal Sayid Qadir, was convicted by a state security court in the city of Arbil after a one-hour-long trial on December 19, 2005 of defaming public institutions. Karim, 48, is an Austrian citizen. He has been in detention since he was arrested on October 26, 2005 in Arbil by the Parastin, the security intelligence service of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

He was found guilty under Article 1 of Law 21, enacted by the Kurdistan National Assembly in 2003, according to a statement issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government .

He had published articles on Kurdistanpost, an independent Kurdish news Web site, criticizing the KDP and its leader Masoud Barzani, whom he accused of corruption and abuse of power. Barzani is also president of the Kurdistan Region.

“Kamal Karim’s sentence of 30 years in prison for expressing an opinion is an outrage that focuses international attention on the arbitrary nature of the justice system in Iraq’s Kurdistan,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Barzani to dissociate himself from this draconian punishment meted out by a court that did not grant the defendant a fair hearing and due process. We urge the court of appeals to overturn the conviction.”

Cooper added, “In the meantime, we call on President Barzani and the Kurdish authorities to examine all possible legal options to ensure that this sentence is dismissed.”

In an e-mail to his family which was seen by CPJ, Karim said his trial lasted barely one hour. A state security officer had told him beforehand that the court would release him, and that his appearance was merely procedural. When he arrived in court, however, Karim realized that he was being tried. He had only five minutes to confer with a defense lawyer, he wrote in the e-mail.

Karim is appealing the verdict. He went on hunger strike on December 26, 2005, to protest his trial but stopped after nine days following a visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer said he raised Karim’s case with Barzani, during a conference in Austria on November 11, 2005. The Austrian foreign ministry is currently reviewing the case.